Bell's palsy, which is also termed as acute peripheral facial palsy can develop at any age. The exact cause behind this facial palsy condition is unknown. It can occur due to the swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on the affected side of your face. In fact, it can also be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection. This nerve that is responsible for controlling your facial muscles is connected through a narrow passage of bone on its way to your face. In this condition, that nerve gets inflamed and swollen mostly after a viral infection. Along with affecting facial muscles, the nerve can have an impact on tears and saliva as well.
In most of the cases, bell's palsy is temporary and goes away after a few weeks. The symptoms often start improving within a few weeks and then full recovery in around six months or so. Very less patients continue to have some bell's palsy symptoms for their entire life. Very rarely, bell's palsy can be recurring as well. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Anil Venkitachalam, consultant neurologist and movement disorder specialist, Nanavati Max Hospital, about the symptoms, causes and treatment of bell's palsy.
Bell's palsy symptoms
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The symptoms of Bell's palsy vary from weakness in your facial muscles to drooling. Usually, the weakness is temporary and improves after a few weeks. This weakness can result in making half of your face to droop. The whole facial structure including the smile gets one-sided, and your eye on that side is difficult to close. Here are the main symptoms of bell's palsy:
- Facial droop
- Pain around the jaw area
- Paralysis on one side of your face
Bell's palsy causes
Although the exact cause for bell's palsy is unknown but it is mostly associated with a viral infection. According to Dr. Anil, here are the viruses that are linked to Bell's palsy directly or indirectly:
- Chicken pox
- Influenza B
Dr. Anil said, "I have been getting four to five cases of Bell’s palsy with a history of COVID-19 daily. Bell’s palsy is a common post viral infection complication. It is usually connected to herpes infection. In most cases, the peripheral portion of the facial nerve is affected. The Coronavirus itself is known to cause a number of neurological issues." He further added saying, "Even in Bell’s palsy, it can be just the infection itself. Unlike the other post COVID-19 complications, the treatment of Bell’s palsy was simple. The treatment involves prescribing steroids and facial massage along with physiotherapy. We have to observe such patients for any symptoms of deterioration."
Bell's palsy diagnosis treatment
There is no particular test for the diagnosis of bell's palsy. The doctor will examine your face and ask you to move your facial muscles along with different other movements. Mostly, people who have Bell's palsy recover completely, with or without treatment. There is no specific single medical treatment bell's palsy, but there are certain medications and physical therapy sessions that can help in quick recovery from this condition. And, surgery is not considered as the best course of treatment for Bell's palsy. Common treatment options for bell's palsy include:
1. Physical therapy
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Contracture deformity occurs due to the stiff nature of the muscles. The temporary shortening or shrinking of muscles can even turn into a permanent one. In such a case, one can learn how to regularly move and massage the facial muscles, certainly, a physical therapist.
Movements of the face can be restored with the help of facial surgery. Facial surgery can fix the uneven look of the face. The procedure to treat the compressed nerves is decompression surgery which releases the external force on the facial nerves through the opening of the bony passage. Generally this works and correction is very rarely needed through plastic surgery.
3. Facial massage
Gently massaging and exercising your face under the monitoring of a physical therapist can help in relaxing your facial muscles. Acupuncture can also act as an alternative medicinal treatment for managing the symptoms of bell's palsy.
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