Facial paralysis

Originally Published: January 17, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 10, 2012
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Dear Alice,

Do you know if there's any information on what it might be that spurs on Bell's palsy?

Dear Reader,

That’s a good question; unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer. Bell's palsy, or facial palsy as it is also known, is a result of damage or trauma to the facial nerve. What causes the damage, however, is not clear. Many researchers believe that the disorder is related to the common cold sore virus, herpes simplex. In addition, Lyme disease, flu-like illnesses, ear infections, high blood pressure, and diabetes have all been associated with Bell’s palsy. It’s a common misconception to think Bell’s palsy is caused by a stroke. Although a stroke can cause facial paralysis, it doesn’t cause Bell’s palsy.

As mentioned before, Bell’s palsy is a result of damage to the facial nerve. Usually, the damage is inflammation or swelling of the nerves that control the muscles on the side of the face. This causes weakness or paralysis on the side of the face. Bell’s palsy occurs in men and women equally, affecting approximately 30,000 – 40,000 people every year. The disorder disproportionately affects people who have diabetes or upper respiratory infections. 

Symptoms of Bell’s palsy can mimic those of other conditions and vary from person to person. This is one reason why it is so important to consult with a healthcare provider if you experience any of the symptoms below:

  • Paralysis on one side of the face.
  • Difficulty closing the eye on the side of the face that is paralyzed.
  • Drooping of one side of the face.
  • Drooling.
  • Loss of taste.
  • Pain in or around the ear and/or jaw.

Most people recover fully from Bell’s palsy, often with no treatment; however, it can sometimes take weeks or months for symptoms to disappear completely. Treatments may include anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics, pain killers, and facial muscle exercises. Therapies to resolve nerve inflammation may be helpful.  In addition, healthcare providers may instruct patients to do certain facial exercises at home, which can often speed up recovery. If you experience any type of unexplained facial paralysis, it’s best to visit a healthcare provider to rule out serious conditions. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment by calling Medical Services at x4-2284 or by using Open Communicator.

Alice