Let's start with some reassurances as to what Bell's palsy is not. It is not related to cerebral palsy. It is not an indication of a stroke. The word "palsy" means weakness or paralysis.
Bell's palsy is weakness in or paralysis of muscles on one side of the face that comes on very quickly.
The seventh cranial nerve, which controls most facial muscles and parts of the ear, becomes inflamed. The nerve may then put extreme pressure on the cheekbone. As a result, the protective covering of the nerve can become damaged.
The symptoms of Bell's palsy include headache, drooping of one side of the face, drooling from one side of the mouth, heightened sensitivity to sound in one ear, and pain around one ear.
The eye becomes irritated due to dryness, and unable to blink. There may be a loss of the sense of taste. If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor right away.
Approximately 25 people out of 100,000 in the United States are afflicted with Bell's palsy annually. Incidence seems to be higher among people with diabetes mellitus, a cold or flu, or who are pregnant. A person can have Bell's palsy more than once in their lifetime, in about 7 percent of cases.
It is believed that Bell's palsy may be caused by a virus, like one of the herpes viruses, hepatitis viruses, rubella virus, or Epstein-Barr virus. Bell's palsy may be brought on by Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection. Lyme disease bacteria can also cause Bell's Palsy symptoms.
In making a diagnosis, the doctor will check the patient's head, neck and ears, looking first for other possible conditions like Lyme disease, stroke or a tumor. Muscles of the face will also be looked over to see if other nerves have also been affected.
If none of these causes are discovered, the diagnosis is Bell's palsy. If there is any doubt, the patient may be sent to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, or otolaryngologist.
To suddenly find one's face paralyzed or drooping on one side is a terrifying experience. The first 48 hours are the worst. Fortunately, Bell's palsy is usually not a long-lasting condition, and in most cases, corrects itself without treatment.