You may have heard of Bell’s palsy before: It’s one of those conditions that maybe a friend of a friend might have had, or perhaps a relative. Bell’s palsy can be misunderstood and even feared, as its most common hallmark — sudden facial muscle weakness — can mimic a well-known stroke symptom. Bell’s palsy is not a stroke, but they are both neurological conditions.
What is Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s palsy causes temporary muscle weakness or paralysis in the face. It is unexplained and begins suddenly and worsens over 48 hours. Bell’s palsy, named for Sir Charles Bell, the Scottish surgeon who in 1829 first described the connection of the facial nerve to the condition, can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed. While you are suffering from this condition, you may have difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected side. In most cases, symptoms usually go away after a few weeks.
Other symptoms you might experience with Bell’s palsy include:
- Difficulty eating and drinking
- Inability to make facial expressions
- Muscle twitches
- Dry eye and mouth
- Taste changes
Risk factors for Bell’s palsy
While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, it is suspected that it may be due to exposure to a virus such as herpes simplex, HIV, Epstein-Barr virus and Lyme disease, even when other symptoms of a viral infection are not present. Your risk for developing the condition can increase if you:
How is it treated?
The good news is that Bell’s palsy symptoms mostly resolve on their own without treatment. It can, however, take weeks (and sometimes months) for your facial muscles to regain normal strength. To help alleviate symptoms and speed recovery, your doctor might prescribe:
- Corticosteroid drugs
- Antiviral or antibacterial medication
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Eye drops
- Physical therapy
Call the doctor
If you think you have Bell’s palsy, call your doctor right away. You should never self-diagnose Bell’s palsy and it’s important to rule out more serious conditions. Prompt treatment can also help you more quickly recover and prevent complications.
Are you experiencing any neurological issues? Make an appointment with an Ochsner neurologist today!