Bell’s palsy is a sudden facial paralysis that usually strikes partially or completely one side of the face. Men and women of all ages can be victims, but statistics suggest that the risk is higher for people in their forties. Overall, your risk of being struck by Bell’s palsy is 1 in 5,000, or 1.7% over an average lifetime. Some people may be victims of Bell’s palsy more than once during their lives.
Bell’s palsy can be a frightening experience, appearing suddenly, and people often believe that this is a stroke. The symptoms of stroke are quite different and, in general, Bell’s palsy is a condition that clears up without treatment.
The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown, but most researchers believe it is probably caused by a viral infection that causes swelling and inflammation of the facial nerve. Although research has shown that herpes simplex I, a common virus causing cold sores, is present in many cases it was not proven a direct link between paralysis of Bell and the virus.
Some people are more likely than others to suffer from Bell’s palsy, particularly in cases of:
- family history of Bell’s palsy ;
- common cold ;
- diabetes ;
- flu ;
- pregnancy (third trimester).
Symptoms and Complications
Generally, Bell’s palsy occurs suddenly, often overnight. The main symptom is weakness and paralysis on one side of the face. The victim may become unable to make the expressions as usual. Also, usually, one eye becomes impossible to close. Other possible symptoms include:
- taste alteration ;
- facial pain in or behind the ear (in less than 50% of cases) ;
- a lack of tears in one eye ;
- sensitivity to noise on the affected side ;
- numbness or heaviness in the face.
Stroke is associated with other symptoms such as severe headache, severe dizziness, trouble speaking, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs and blurred vision. Of speech may occur if you are afflicted with Bell’s palsy, but this is purely muscular, which is not caused by a blood clot or bleeding in the brain.
Generally, the onset of symptoms is sudden. Sometimes they get worse within a few days. A Steady, progressive paralysis over several weeks is not a sign of Bell’s palsy.
A permanent mild facial paralysis is the most serious complication seen in Bell’s palsy. It occurs only in a minority of cases. In about 80% of cases, full recovery is expected within weeks or months, and there are improvements in most other cases.
Incomplete recovery is more likely in people over 60 years and those who feel a weakness or paralysis on both sides of the face – this occurs in 1% of cases. People who do not recover completely may continue to undergo one or more of the following symptoms:
- an impaired speech ;
- an asymmetric smile ;
- paralysis of the buccinator muscle (food caught in cheek of paralyzed side) ;
- injury of the cornea ;
- drooling in a corner of paralyzed mouth
- a dry eye
- muscular blockade at the nostrils
- hyperacusis (perceiving sounds as being particularly strong) ;
- of taste disorders ;
- of speech ;
- a synkinesis (involuntary movements occurring during a voluntary movement).