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Bell’s Palsy Bell’s Palsy
Bell´s palsy is a type of facial paralysis that has also been called facial palsy. It can develop at any age, though it... Bell’s Palsy

by Kimberly Allen, RN

Bell´s palsy is a type of facial paralysis that has also been called facial palsy.  It can develop at any age, though it occurs more frequently in pregnant women in their third trimester or in the first week after giving birth.  Also, people with an upper respiratory infection like a cold or the flu tend to develop Bell´s palsy more often than people that don´t have an upper respiratory infection.  There are also people with a family history of Bell´s palsy.  Those with a family history are prone to recurrent attacks.  It is the most common disease involving one nerve only and is the most common cause of sudden onset facial paralysis.  In the US approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed with Bell´s palsy every year with a familial inheritance occurring in up to 14% of the cases.  It is also 4 times more commonly diagnosed in diabetics than in non diabetics.

bell's palsyThe exact cause of Bell´s palsy is not clear, however, it is not cause by a stroke or TIA.  Most experts believe it is linked to a viral infection like herpes simples, herpes zoster, Epsein Barr and rubella as well as the mumps and the flu.  In Bells palsy the 7th cranial nerve which controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed and swollen causing it to be dysfunctional.  In addition to affecting your facial muscles the 7th cranial nerve also affects your tears, taste and saliva as well as the small bone in your middle ear.

Bell´s palsy develops suddenly, you can go to bed at night fine and wake up the next morning with Bell´s palsy.  The first thing you will notice is a facial droop.  You can experience anywhere from mild weakness to complete paralysis of one side of your face.  This makes it difficult to close your eye or smile on the affected side.  You may also experience some pain in your jaw or behind the ear on the affected side as well as an increased sensitivity to sound on that side.  Many people with Bell´s palsy also experience headaches as well and because the 7th cranial nerve also affects the production of tears and saliva  as well as taste you´ll also experience changes in the production of tears and saliva as well as diminished taste.  Though rare Bell´s palsy can develop on both sides of your face.
woman with bells palsy
There is no one treatment that works for everyone with Bell´s palsy and many people will recover with or without treatment in a few weeks.  However, there are medications that your doctor may suggest like corticosteroids such as prednisone.  These are strong anti-inflammatory medications, however, they are most effective when initiated with in days if the onset of symptoms.  If your facial paralysis is severe your doctor  may also recommend antiviral medications like acyclovir or valacyclovir.  If your Bell´s palsy is known to be caused by a virus it may halt the progression of your Bell´s palsy.  Because paralyzed muscles can shorten and shrink and cause permanent contractions your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to teach you how to exercise and massage your facial muscles to prevent your muscles from contracting.  Surgery is not recommended for Bell´s palsy.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at  mussatti3@gmail.com.

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