What Is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is diagnosed when facial nerves become damaged, causing sudden paralysis or weakness in the facial muscles, usually on one side. This condition rapidly worsens and generally affects one side of the head or face.
While the root cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown, it is often linked to virus exposure. Common viruses that may cause Bell’s palsy include those that cause the following:
- Lyme disease
- Hand, foot and mouth disease
- Measles or mumps
- Respiratory illnesses
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy occur suddenly and can include:
- Facial weakness or paralysis — Though Bell’s palsy can affect both sides of the face, it typically affects only one side. Because of this weakness or paralysis, facial expressions become difficult and drooling may result.
- Pain — Some people experience headaches with Bell’s palsy and others suffer localized pain behind the ear or near the jaw of the affected side. Pain behind the ear may occur prior to facial drooping.
- Mouth, ear and eye issues — Dry eyes and mouth and an inability to taste may occur, as may excessive tearing in the affected eye, ringing in the ear(s) and impaired speech.
Diagnosing Bell’s palsy requires no testing because the symptoms are self-evident. Testing may help determine whether an underlying condition is causing Bell’s palsy. Though some individuals never recover, most do through treatments that include:
- Waiting — Many experience mild symptoms of Bell’s palsy that abate on their own within two weeks.
- Medication — If an infection prompts Bell’s palsy, treating the infection is medically beneficial. Otherwise, over-the-counter pain relievers and eye drops can relieve pain and prevent eye damage.
- Therapy — Physical therapy can help relieve pain and strengthen weakened facial muscles.
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