Bell's palsy is a medical condition characterized by temporary paralysis of the face. The most common cause of paralysis of the face, Bell's palsy typically results from trauma or damage to one or both of the face’s nerves. It is rare, however, for both sides of the face to be affected. Certain viruses, such as viral meningitis and herpes simplex, are also thought to occasionally cause Bell's palsy when the resulting infections cause the facial nerves to swell.
Some individuals carry a greater risk of developing Bell's palsy than others. The elderly, for example, or more likely to develop the disorder. Nonetheless, children can also develop Bell's palsy, though they tend to recover quickly. Individuals suffering from diabetes are also more likely to suffer from Bell's palsy, as are women in their last trimester of pregnancy and those with conditions that compromise the immune system.
Individuals who develop Bell's palsy typically experience symptoms within 48 hours after trauma has occurred. Aside from paralysis, symptoms include a weak feeling in the face, drooping eyelids, twitching, drooling, a drooping corner of the mouth, dry mouth, impaired ability to taste, dry eyes, and excessive eye tearing. A person suffering from Bell's palsy may experience extreme distortions to the face.
For most people suffering from Bell's palsy, the disorder subsides on its own within two weeks. Full recovery occurs three to six months after the symptoms appear. Recovery and need for treatment depend on the extent of damage to the nerve or nerves.
There is no widely accepted treatment plan for Bell's palsy. The first course of action, however, is to treat the underlying cause. If Bell's palsy is the result of trauma, for example, the area should be treated and pressure should be removed from the facial nerves. When Bell's palsy is caused by a viral infection, acyclovir may be prescribed. Anti-inflammatory drugs may also be used to reduce swelling and inflammation in the face. Drugs such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen may be prescribed to alleviate the pain commonly associated with Bell's palsy.