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Bell's Palsy

A good warning sign that Bell's Palsy is beginning may be neck pain or pain in/behind the ear...

This condition is a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage to the facial nerve (seventh cranial nerve). Each facial nerve directs the muscles on one side of the faceincluding those that control eye blinking and closing and facial expressions such as smiling and frowning. Additionally the facial nerve carries nerve impulses to the tear glands the saliva glands and the muscles of a small bone in the middle of the ear called the stapes. The facial nerve also transmits taste sensations from the tongue. Nearly everyone is susceptible to this palsy though it arbitrarily attacks these groups more often:

  • pregnant women in their third trimester
  • diabetics
  • elderly people
  • people with the flu, a cold, or an upper respiratory ailment
  • those with an immunosuppressive disorder,like HIV

Although the exact cause of Bell's Palsy is unknown the most likely cause is the common cold sore virus herpes simplex. We all carry the virus inside of us but only some people have an active version. Other viral illnesses such as mumps and rubella may trigger Bell's palsy.

This condition affects approximately 1 of every 65 people over the course of a lifetime and 50,000 North Americans every year. People who get it usually wake up in the morning to discover their face drooping down on one side. The most common reaction is to immediately call the hospital since nearly everyone believes they have had a stroke. A good warning sign that Bell's Palsy is beginning may be neck pain or pain in/behind the ear - other symptoms include:

  • inability to close eye (on affected side)
  • pain,drooling and eye tearing/dryness
  • impairment of taste
  • hypersensitivity to sound (in affected ear)

It is possible to be affected bilaterally though it is quite rare impacting less than one percent of cases. Bell's Palsy patients generally have a very good prognosis. With or without treatment most people begin to get significantly better within two weeks and about 80 percent recover within three months. However sometimes the symptoms last longer; in other cases symptoms never entirely disappear. The possibility of recurrence is now estimated at five to nine percent of cases. The average time span between recurrences is 10 years.

In terms of treatment options are few. Most people just wait out the condition. Some preliminary studies conducted with steroids have proven somewhat successful in improving facial function. The only other treatments are aimed at protecting eyes from injury and corneal scarring since your ability to blink is hindered. Artificial tears and ointments are often prescribed to alleviate dryness at night. Taping the eye closed for sleeping is sometimes recommended in cases of severe dryness. During the day a pair of eyeglasses or shields will help defend your eyes from injury dust and foreign bodies. Protection is imperative to ensure eye health during your bout with Bell's Palsy. Contact your eye care practitioner for individual treatment options.

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