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What is Bell's Palsy

Updated on June 7, 2013

Even if you may have heard of Bell's palsy many people still do not know what it is, Bell's palsy is a temporary facial paralysis. Bell's palsy happens when one of the two major facial nerves are either damaged or have had some form of trauma. Bell's palsy can cause your facial features to become distorted and can also make it hard to do things we rarely think about doing such as blinking or chewing our food as these things are often done without having to think about them.

If you were to wake up one morning and find that half your face appears to be paralyzed you may jump to the conclusion that you have had a stroke, but Bell's palsy is not related to a stroke in any way. People who are most apt to get Bell's palsy are diabetics, people who already have a cold or the flu and pregnant women in the third trimester. The cause of Bell's palsy is often found to be an infection in the seventh cranial nerve; this nerve controls the movements of your eyebrows, eye lids, and movement of the mouth and lips.

The seventh cranial nerve also controls one of your salivary glands and the taste buds for the tongue. The nerve passes through a small bone on the way to your face and when the nerve swells often due to an infection the nerve compresses and can cause facial paralysis. The most common cause of Bell's palsy is the herpes simplex virus which can cause genital herpes and cold sores.

There are several other viruses that are thought to cause Bell's palsy such as the virus that causes mononucleosis, chickenpox and shingles. The symptoms that cause Bell's palsy are:

  • Ability to taste
  • Change in tear or saliva productions
  • Headache
  • Increased hearing sensitivity of affected side
  • Facial droop
  • Difficulty producing facial expressions
  • Pain around the jaw or behind ears

If experiencing any of these symptoms it is advised to call your physician immediately. There are no lab tests that can confirm the diagnosis of Bell's palsy but your physician may be able to make a preliminary diagnosis and begin treatment immediately to help speed the process of recovery. Effective medications for Bell's palsy are anti-inflammatory drugs like prednisone that when given in the early stages of Bell's palsy will help with pain and decrease swelling.

Your physician may also recommend physical therapy as paralyzed muscles have a tendency to become shorter or shrink when not used and can cause painful contractions in your facial muscles that could remain permanently. A physical therapist will be able to show you how to massage your facial muscles in order to keep them suppler with less chance of any permanent damage.

Bell's palsy most often effects people between the ages of 15 and 60 and while most people will show improvement in their symptoms within a few weeks it is possible that a full recovery could take anywhere from three to six months. While Bell's palsy may not be life threatening there can be long term effects such as partial blindness if the eye on the paralyzed side will not close properly and care is not taken to prevent dryness or scratches from occurring. You may also experience permanent damage to your facial muscles. This is why it is so important to contact your physician immediately if any symptoms of Bell's palsy appear.

"Bell's palsy" Mayo Clinic

"Seventh Cranial Nerve" MedicineNet


"Treatment for Bell's Palsy" Bell's Palsy Information Site


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    • JesadaB profile image

      JesadaB 6 years ago from Home!

      I hope your grandmother is doing better now, and I am glad if the information here helped, that was my goal! Thanks for visiting.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 6 years ago from United States

      My grandmother recently suffered from Bell's Palsy. It was scary because like so many others we thought she had a stroke. Thanks for sharing this information!