Bell's palsy is a sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. It is usually a temporary condition.
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The exact cause of Bell's palsy is unknown. It is thought to be a result of an infection or inflammation that affects the nerve.
Factors that may increase your risk of Bell's palsy include:
Bell's palsy symptoms may come on suddenly or develop over a few days. Initial symptoms may include:
- Pain behind the ear that is followed by weakness and paralysis of the face
- Ringing sound in the ears
- Slight hearing impairment
- Slight increase in sensitivity to sound on the affected side
Symptoms of advanced Bell's palsy may include:
- Facial weakness or paralysis, most often on one side
- Numbness just before the weakness starts
- Drooping corner of the mouth
- Decreased tearing
Inability to close an eye, which can lead to:
- Dry, red eyes
- Ulcers forming on the eye
- Problems with taste on one side
- Sound sensitivity in one ear
- Slurred speech
Late complications can occur 3-4 months after onset and can include:
- Long-lasting tightening of the facial muscles
- Tearing from eye while chewing
Symptoms will often go away on their own within a few weeks. Bell's palsy may resolve after a few months in many people. In some cases, some symptoms of Bell's palsy may never go away. The recovery rate decreases with increasing age.
Physicians will attempt to differentiate between between Bell’s palsy and other causes of facial weakness (including stroke and tumor). You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is usually made with just the physical exam. Information from your health and medical history may be used to determine a potential cause.
Concern about infections, cancer, or other specific causes may require further testing. Tests may include:
For Bell's palsy, treatment most frequently involves medications. You may be referred to a specialist if you have eye problems, if your symptoms worsen, or if your recovery takes longer than expected.
If the facial weakness is due to a cause other than Bell's palsy, treatment for underlying conditions may include medication or surgery.
Your doctor will likely prescribe corticosteroids if your symptoms have been present for a short time.
Antiviral medications along with corticosteroids may be advised. There is no evidence that antiviral medication alone has any benefit.
If the paralysis includes your eyelid, you may need to protect your eye. This may include:
- Lubricant or eye drops
- Covering and taping your eye closed at night
- An eye patch to keep the eye closed
Massaging the weakened facial muscles may also help.
Physical therapy may be advised to improve function.
Symptoms can be distressing. Counseling can help you manage emotional issues and make appropriate adjustments.
There are no current guidelines to prevent Bell's palsy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Public Health Agency of Canada
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1/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy: Engstrom M, Berg T, Stjernquist-Desatnik A, et al. Prednisolone and valaciclovir in Bell's palsy: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial. Lancet Neurol. 2008;7(11):993-1000.
9/15/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy: Goudakos JK, Markou KD. Corticosteroids vs corticosteroids plus antiviral agents in the treatment of Bell palsy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;135(6):558-564.
9/15/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy: de Almeida JR, Al Khabori M, Guyatt GH, et al. Combined corticosteroid and antiviral treatment for Bell palsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009;302(9):985-993.
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Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 10/13/2016