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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Bell's palsy


Other Names for this Disease
  • Antoni's palsy
  • Bell palsy
  • Facial cranial nerve paralysis
  • Facial nerve palsy
  • Facial palsy
More Names
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What is Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy is a nonprogressive neurological disorder of one of the facial nerves. This disorder is characterized by the sudden onset of facial paralysis that may be preceded by a slight fever, pain behind the ear on the affected side, a stiff neck, and weakness and/or stiffness on one side of the face. Paralysis results from decreased blood supply (ischemia) and/or compression of the 7th cranial nerve. The exact cause of Bell's palsy is not known. Viral (e.g., herpes zoster virus) and immune disorders are frequently implicated as a cause for this disorder. There may also be an inherited tendency toward developing Bell's palsy.[1] While there is no cure or standard course of treatment for Bell's palsy, eliminating the source of the nerve damage typically results in a good prognosis.[2]
Last updated: 1/12/2010

What are the symptoms of Bell's palsy?

Because the facial nerve has so many functions and is so complex, damage to the nerve or a disruption in its function can lead to many problems. Symptoms of Bell's palsy, which vary from person to person and range in severity from mild weakness to total paralysis, may include twitching, weakness, or paralysis on one or both sides of the face, drooping of the eyelid and corner of the mouth, drooling, dryness of the eye or mouth, impairment of taste, and excessive tearing in one eye. Most often these symptoms, which usually begin suddenly and reach their peak within 48 hours, lead to significant facial distortion.[3]

Other symptoms may include pain or discomfort around the jaw and behind the ear, ringing in one or both ears, headache, loss of taste, hypersensitivity to sound on the affected side, impaired speech, dizziness, and difficulty eating or drinking.[3]

Last updated: 11/10/2009

What causes Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles, the 7th cranial nerve, is swollen, inflamed, or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. Exactly what causes this damage is unknown.[1][3]

Most scientists believe that a viral infection such as viral meningitis or the common cold sore virus -- herpes simplex-- causes the disorder when the facial nerve swells and becomes inflamed in reaction to the infection.[2] The disorder has also been associated with influenza or a flu-like illness, headaches, chronic middle ear infection, high blood pressure, diabetes, sarcoidosis, tumors, Lyme disease, and trauma such as skull fracture or facial injury.[3] There may also be an inherited tendency toward developing Bell's palsy.[1]

Last updated: 11/10/2009

What is the standard treatment for Bell's palsy?

There is no cure or standard course of treatment for Bell's palsy. The most important factor in treatment is to eliminate the source of the nerve damage. Some cases are mild and do not require treatment since the symptoms usually subside on their own within 2 weeks. For others, treatment may include medications such as acyclovir -- used to fight viral infections -- combined with an anti-inflammatory drug such as the steroid prednisone -- used to reduce inflammation and swelling.  Analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may relieve pain, but because of possible drug interactions, patients should always talk to their doctors before taking any over-the-counter medicines.  In general, decompression surgery for Bell's palsy -- to relieve pressure on the nerve -- is controversial and is seldom recommended.[2]

Last updated: 1/12/2010

What is the prognosis for individuals with Bell's palsy?

The prognosis for individuals with Bell's palsy is generally very good. The extent of nerve damage determines the extent of recovery.  With or without treatment, most individuals begin to get better within 2 weeks after the initial onset of symptoms and recover completely within 3 to 6 months. For some, however, the symptoms may last longer. In a few cases, the symptoms may never completely disappear. In rare cases, the disorder may recur, either on the same or the opposite side of the face.[3]

Last updated: 1/12/2010

References