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What is Bell's Palsy? Print E-mail
Written by Gary Presant, MD   
Monday, 05 October 2009
Bell's palsy is a form of facial paralysis on one side of the face resulting from damage to the seventh cranial nerve.

What is going on in the body?

Bell's palsy is thought to be due to inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve. This nerve is called the facial nerve. Bell's palsy tends to come on very suddenly. Some people notice pain behind the ear a day or two before they notice any facial muscle weakness.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Bell's palsy is caused by a sudden breakdown of or damage to the nerve that supplies the muscles on one side of the face. Attacks often occur without a clear cause. The common cold sore virus, herpes simplex, is the likely cause of most cases of Bell's palsy. Bell's palsy is more common in pregnant women, people recovering from a viral infection, and people with diabetes.

What are the treatments for the disease?

It is important to consult a doctor right away once symptoms begin. Recent studies have shown that steroids are probably effective in treating this condition and relieving some of the symptoms. The antiviral drug, acyclovir, is possibly effective in improving facial function when used in combination with steroids. Painkillers may also help. Other treatments include:
- patching the eye shut
- performing surgery to restore partial nerve function
- using eye drops to prevent the eye from drying out

In addition, rest is important in aiding healing from the facial nerve trauma. It is normal to feel more tired than usual during this period. Frequent brushing of the teeth and rinsing of the mouth can help get rid of food that gets stuck between the gum and cheek. An earplug can help prevent discomfort from noise sensitivity. Moist heat can provide some short-term relief from facial pain.
What are the side effects of the treatments?

Preventing eye problems with eye drops and an eye patch is very important. Sometimes eye drops and steroids can have side effects. Any side effects should be reported to the doctor.
What happens after treatment for the disease?

With or without treatment, most people begin to get significantly better in 2 weeks. About 80% recover completely in 3 months.

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