Bell’s palsy is a relatively uncommon condition that can affect anyone. It is also widely known to some as facial palsy, and although there is not a lot of PR about the condition, it does affect many people. It is caused by the sudden onset of paralysis of one of the facial nerves which can cause a droopy looking face and this can lead to lack of self-esteem and confidence.
The main symptom of Bell’s palsy is muscle weakness on one side of the face, not dissimilar to the issues caused by a stroke, when one half of the face is left paralysed. The muscle weakness causes a droop to the face and it is often both the left and right sides of the face are affected equally, which can give an aged look to the face also, long before its time. It is rare for both sides to be affected at the same time however, but it can affect anyone of any age. It may manifest at any age but usually it occurs during the ages of 20 and 40. This isn’t to say that anyone of any other age can’t have Bell’s palsy, however.
Its frequency is relatively high. Around 2 to 3 people per 10 000 of the population, and this is thought to be similar across all ethnic groups and between men and women. There is no specific things that make Bell’s palsy more likely to occur but scientists have found a link between pregnant women and people with diabetes, saying that they possibly have an increased risk.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms?
One of the very first symptoms of Bell’s palsy is a dull, aching pain around the jaw or sometimes behind the ear. This is caused by the muscles. It may linger around a day or two before then progressing into a weakness around this area. It may be a worrying or scary thing to experience if you are unsure of what it actually is. When the facial weakness is noticed, you may develop a sense of numbness in the area but you will still be able to feel the area if you touch it with your hand.
These symptoms have a relatively slow onset but will begin developing over several hours or up to two or three days, signs and symptoms can range in severity and include:
- Asymmetrical smile – this may make your smile look a little crooked or even when you smile fully.
- Inability to close the eye on the affected side – you may struggle to close the eyelid fully due to the lack of muscle strength
- Reduced sensation on the affected side – you may feel less sense in that area, it may be numb or you may feel less feeling at all in the affected area.
- Drooling – because your muscles are weakened, it may affect your mouth which can cause salivating and drooling.
- Impaired taste – you may notice food tastes different or not as punchy.
- Slurring of words – this is due to the muscles and is not dissimilar to how the muscles behave after a stroke, so it may be well worth looking into speech therapy if this is affected with Bell’s Palsy.
- Difficulty eating-chewing may be limited due to muscle function and may find it easier to use straws and eat less solid food to ensure your safety.
- Muscle weakness on the affected side, including the muscles of the eyelids and forehead which can cause a sluggish feeling and dull ache.
- Reduced tear production on the affected side – you may notice that your eyes are not producing the same amount of tears that your healthy side is, this is also common throughout Bell’s Palsy.
- Increased sensitivity of hearing in the affected ear – it may manifest with types of tinnitus or a very sensitive feeling when listening to certain sounds that may seem intense.
How Does This Get Diagnosed and Is It Life-Threatening?
Thankfully, no, Bell’s palsy is not a life-threatening condition but it can create symptoms similar to other more serious causes, so before its diagnosis it may seem quite worrisome to both you and your doctor. Your doctor may opt for you to have some tests to rule anything more serious such as a tumour or a stroke.
This will usually be followed with other blood tests before a definitive diagnosis of Bell’s palsy can be made. Some of the tests that you may undergo for your diagnosis may be:
- Research of full medical history to see any patterns or to look into any recent illnesses or viral infections that may have caused it.
- Discussion of current symptoms, your doctor will talk through any additional symptoms as often more serious things would present with other symptoms also.
- A complete physical and neurological assessment which may include testing the muscles, some little tests to assess your sensations etc.
Further on in the diagnosis, for the next step, you may be called for the following:
- Blood tests
- Hearing tests
- Balance tests
- Taste and salivation tests
- Tear test to see how much your eye produces
- MRI scan which will give a clear and in-depth picture of the entire area, most likely the head which will rule out any types of tumour or problems with arteries.
- Electrical tests which will look at the nerve and to see how it functions and if there is anything unusual about its function.
Whilst it isn’t life threatening, you may find that it is life- changing in a way although the good news is that symptoms can ease and you may find they disappear. It can recur over time however. There is no real known treatment for this but you may be prescribed certain medications to help reduce any inflammation in the area.
For more information on the journey with Bell’s Palsy including the journey to overcoming this condition and looking at bell’s palsy treatment, you can click here. As with any type of condition, you are never alone and there is certainly lots to share about this condition.