What is Bell’s palsy?

A Bell’s palsy refers to a paralysis affecting the facial nerve or peripheral region of the face. As a result, the person is temporarily unable to move the paralyzed side of the face.

Thus, the most obvious signs of this problem usually appear upon awakening and consist of a one-sided, asymmetric smile and an eye that does not close easily.

At the origin of Bell’s palsy, there is usually inflammation and swelling of the facial nerve. This circumstance, in addition to the paralysis of a part of the face, can interfere with the production of tears and saliva and with senses such as taste and hearing.

Generally, this condition is temporary and resolves after one to two months, with complete recovery taking six to nine months.

However, in rare cases it can persist, just as in some infrequent situations it can affect the nerves on both sides of the face. Read more.

Bell’s palsy symptoms you should know about

In addition to the more obvious symptoms of Bell’s palsy, such as drooping of the eyelid and/or corner of the mouth and weakness or paralysis of part or all of the face, other manifestations may be associated with this problem, such as:

  • Difficulty in containing saliva and changes in its production;
  • Loss of taste;
  • Irritation of the eyes, due to inappropriate tear production;
  • Pain in the jaw and/or behind the ear;
  • Headache;
  • Increased sensitivity to noise.

Possible complications

Although uncommon, Bell’s palsy can lead to certain complications and leave sequelae, in the most severe cases. Some possible consequences are:

  • Irreversible damage to the facial nerve;
  • Abnormal growth of nerve fibers, which may result in involuntary contraction of certain muscles. For example, smiling, closing one eye, without having this intention;
  • Partial or complete blindness of the eye that cannot close, due to excessive dryness and eye irritation.

Bell's palsy

Risk factors

The cause of Bell’s palsy is not yet known, but it is known to affect people of all ages and genders, with a higher prevalence in people aged 15 to 60 years.

However, there are risk factors that seem to favor this problem. These include:

  • Viral or respiratory infections (colds, influenza, herpes zoster, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, rubella, varicella, hand-foot-and-mouth syndrome, among other viral agents) ;
  • Preeclampsia;
  • Pregnant women (especially during the third trimester of gestation);
  • Postpartum (especially during the first week after delivery);
  • Obesity;
  • Hypertension;
  • Diabetes.

What to do and what to watch out for

Although Bell’s palsy is not usually a serious health complication, it is essential to seek urgent medical attention so that a doctor can diagnose the situation and indicate the most appropriate treatment.

For this, in addition to the clinical history and observation of the patient, blood tests, electromyography, magnetic resonance or tomography may be necessary.

In these cases, a hospital visit is particularly important, as some of the symptoms associated with Bell’s palsy are common to those of other health problems, such as infections, Lyme disease, brain tumors, or stroke.

However, stroke has a sudden onset and speech difficulties and decreased limb strength also occur, which is not the case with Bell’s palsy.

To treat Bell’s palsy, you may need to take medication (such as painkillers, corticosteroids, or antivirals) and/or physical therapy that works the muscles of the face.

In more severe situations, plastic surgery or botulinum toxin (Botox) injections may be necessary.

As long as the therapy does not take effect, you should adopt certain measures, such as:

  • Protect the eye that does not close;
  • Apply lubricating drops to the eye;
  • Put on sunglasses during the day and an eye patch at night;
  • Reinforce dental hygiene by brushing and flossing;
  • Focus on soft, easy-to-chew foods, such as yogurt, soups or porridges.

Physiotherapy

There are some exercises that the person with Bell’s palsy can do at home to help regain facial nerve function. Find out step by step how to do two of them.

Facial exercises

  1. Sit comfortably in front of the mirror;
  2. Raise your eyebrows, with the help of your fingers, if necessary;
  3. Bring your eyebrows together, then frown;
  4. Wrinkle your nose;
  5. Breathe deeply and open your nostrils;
  6. Try to move the corners of your mouth outward;
  7. Try smiling, lifting the sides of your mouth and holding the smile for a few minutes.

Close your eyes.

  1. Keep your head still, looking down with your eyes only;
  2. Place, gently, your index finger on one eyelid, so as to close it;
  3. With the other hand, slightly lift the eyebrow while massaging it;
  4. Without the aid of the hands, gently press the eyelids together;
  5. Keep the eyes half open.

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