Bell Palsy

What is Bell palsy?

Bell palsy is a sudden weakness or paralysis of one side of your face. Bell palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the muscles in your face becomes swollen or irritated.

What causes Bell palsy?

It is not known for sure what causes the facial nerve swelling that leads to Bell palsy. The herpes simplex virus may cause nerve swelling. Viruses that cause colds and the flu may increase your risk for Bell palsy. Your risk is also higher if you are pregnant or have diabetes.

What are the signs and symptoms of Bell palsy?

You may notice pain around an ear 1 or 2 days before you have other symptoms. A few days later, weakness may appear on the same side of your face as the ear pain. The symptoms often increase over the following several days. Bell palsy usually lasts about 2 to 3 weeks, but it can last several months. You may have any of the following:

  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of your face

  • Drooping of one side of your face

  • Trouble closing your eye on the affected side of your face

  • More sensitive hearing on the affected side

  • Numbness or pain in your ear, tongue, or face

  • A decrease in the amount of tears and saliva you make

  • No ability to taste with the front part of your tongue

  • Problems chewing food

How is Bell palsy diagnosed?

Your caregiver will test how well you can move different parts of your face. He may also do an electromyography (EMG). This test measures the electrical activity of your muscles. An EMG also tests the nerves that control muscles.

How is Bell palsy treated?

Bell palsy often goes away without treatment. Some treatments may help you get better faster or help prevent other problems caused by Bell palsy.

  • Eye care may be needed if you have problems blinking or closing your eye. Use artificial tears during the day to keep your eye moist. Your caregiver may ask that you use an eye ointment at night. You may also need to wear a patch over your eye and tape it shut while you sleep. This helps to keep your eye from getting dry and infected. Wear sunglasses to protect your eye from direct sunlight. Stay away from places that have fumes, dust, or other particles in the air that may harm your eye.

  • Medicine may be given to decrease swelling and irritation of your facial nerve. You may receive antiviral medicine if your caregiver thinks a virus caused your Bell palsy. Your caregiver may also suggest acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce pain. These medicines are available without a doctor's order. Ask which medicine to take, and how much you need. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage, and ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding or kidney damage.

  • Physical therapy may be recommended by your caregiver. A physical therapist can teach you how to massage your face and exercise the nerves and muscles in your face. This may help you get better sooner and prevent long-term problems. You can exercise on your own when your facial movement begins to return. Open and close your eye, wink, and smile wide. Do the exercises for 15 or 20 minutes several times a day.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have a fever.

  • Your eye becomes red, irritated, or painful.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You develop weakness or numbness on one side of your body (other than your face).

  • You have double vision, or you lose vision in your eye.

  • You have trouble thinking clearly.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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