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Bell's Palsy

Definition

Bell's palsy is a sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. It is usually a temporary condition.

Bell's Palsy: Facial Droop
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Causes

The exact cause of Bell's palsy is unknown. It is thought to be a result of an infection or inflammation in the nerve.

Nerve infections include:

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of Bell's palsy include:

Symptoms

Bell's palsy symptoms may come on suddenly or develop over a few days. Initial symptoms may include:

  • Pain behind the ear that is followed by weakness and paralysis of the face
  • Ringing sound in the ears
  • Slight hearing impairment
  • Slight increase in sensitivity to sound on the affected side

Symptoms of advanced Bell's palsy may include:

  • Facial weakness or paralysis, most often on one side
  • Numbness just before the weakness starts
  • Drooping corner of the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Decreased tearing
  • Inability to close an eye, which can lead to:
    • Dry, red eyes
    • Ulcers forming on the eye
    • Infection
  • Problems with taste on one side
  • Sound sensitivity in one ear
  • Earache
  • Slurred speech

Late complications can occur 3-4 months after onset and can include:

  • Long-lasting tightening of the facial muscles
  • Tearing from eye while chewing

Symptoms will often go away on their own within a few weeks. Bell's palsy may resolve after a few months in many people. In some cases, some symptoms of Bell's palsy may never go away. The recovery rate decreases with increasing age.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is usually made with just the physical exam. Information from your health and medical history may be used to determine a potential cause.

Concern about infections or other specific causes may require further testing.

Treatment

For most, treatment is not needed. You may be referred to a specialist if you have eye problems, if your symptoms worsen, or if your recovery takes longer than expected.

If an underlying cause of the Bell's palsy is known, it may be treated. Treatment for underlying conditions may include medication or surgery.

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids if your symptoms have been present for a short time. This is a medication that can decrease swelling and pain.

Antiviral medications along with corticosteroids may be advised. There is no evidence that antiviral medication alone has any benefit.

Self-care

If the paralysis includes your eyelid, you may need to protect your eye. This may include:

  • Lubricant or eye drops
  • Covering and taping your eye closed at night
  • An eye patch to keep the eye closed

Massaging the weakened facial muscles may also help.

Therapy

Physical therapy may be advised to improve function.

Symptoms can be distressing. Counseling can help you manage emotional issues and make appropriate adjustments.

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent Bell's palsy.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 08/2014 -
  • Update Date: 09/03/2014 -
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    http://www.ninds.nih.gov

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Bell's palsy . American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy.html. Updated April 2014. Accessed September 3, 2014.

  • Bell's palsy. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/?q=node/1465. Updated February 2013. Accessed September 3, 2014.

  • Bell’s palsy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 27, 2014. Accessed September 3, 2014.

  • Finsterer J. Management of peripheral facial nerve palsy. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngology. 2008;265:743-752.

  • Grogan PM, Gronseth GS. Practice parameter: steroids, acyclovir, and surgery for Bell’s palsy (an evidence based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2001;56:830-6.

  • NINDS Bell’s palsy fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/bells/bells.htm. Updated April 16, 2014. Accessed September 3, 2014.

  • Quant EC, Jeste SS, Muni RH, et al. The benefits of steroids versus steroids plus antivirals for treatment of Bell's palsy: a meta-analysis. BMJ. 2009;339:b3354.

  • 11/6/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Sullivan FM, Swan IR, Donnan PT, Morrison JM, et al. Early treatment with prednisolone or acyclovir in Bell's palsy. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1598-1607.

  • 1/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Engstrom M, Berg T, Stjernquist-Desatnik A, et al. Prednisolone and valaciclovir in Bell's palsy: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial. Lancet Neurol. 2008;7:993-1000.

  • 9/15/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Goudakos JK, Markou KD. Corticosteroids vs corticosteroids plus antiviral agents in the treatment of Bell palsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;135:558-564.

  • 9/15/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: de Almeida JR, Al Khabori M, Guyatt GH, et al. Combined corticosteroid and antiviral treatment for Bell palsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009;302:985-993.

  • 2/13/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Baugh BF, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Bell's Palsy. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013 Nov;149(3 Suppl):S1-27.

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