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An In-Depth Look at the Effects of Bell's Palsy

Bell’s Palsy is a rare condition that affects 40,000 Americans each year. It causes a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in a person’s face. When a person is affected by the condition, it can affect one of both sides of the face. It can cause your face to droop or become stiff. It is most often seen in people aged between 16 and 60 but may happen to children and younger teens as well.

An Overview

Bell’s Palsy affects the seventh facial nerve that supplies the movement and expression in one’s face. This facial nerve also controls the sense of taste in two-thirds of the tongue and has components that affect sensation around a small area of the ear. Bell’s Palsy can also affect a smaller nerve that extends to a muscle that is attached to one of the bones located in the middle ear. Here there are fibers that extend to tear and salivary glands.

Sir Charles Bell was the first person to describe Bell’s Palsy in 1821. Bell (1774-1842) was a distinguished anatomist, physiologist, neurologist, surgeon, and artist who taught and held a clinical practice in London between 1804-1836. In a paper, Bell described that the seventh cranial nerve controls the muscles that allow facial expression to happen and that lesions along the seventh cranial nerve can cause facial paralysis.

Multiple celebrities have opened up about their experience with Bell’s Palsy including: 

  • Angelina Jolie - The Oscar-winning actress and humanitarian was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy in 2016. She opened up about the experience in an interview with Vanity Fair. She revealed that acupuncture helped her during recovery.

  • George Clooney - In an interview with Rolling Stone, actor-director Clooney revealed that he had been affected by Bell’s Palsy when he was just 14-years-old. He revealed that after kids teased him about it, he developed a thick skin so that he was able to joke about the experience too. 

  • Pierce Brosnan - Years before portraying James Bond, Brosnan developed Bell’s Palsy while on location for a film. According to reports, filming continued despite the condition. When Brosnan was on camera, he had to turn the affected side of his face away.

Signs and Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy

Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy can happen quite quickly, developing one to weeks after a person has a cold, eye infection, or ear infection. You may notice them when trying to eat or drink or when you wake up in the morning. 

The most recognizable sign of Bell’s Palsy is a droopy appearance to one side of the face. In rare cases, both sides of the face can be affected. The affected person may even struggle to open or close the eye on their affected side. There are other signs and symptoms of the condition as well, including: 

  • Inability to make facial expressions 

  • Difficulty drinking and eating

  • Pain in your jaw or behind your ear on the affected side

  • Drooling

  • Facial weakness

  • Muscle twitches in the face

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Headaches

  • Dulled sense of taste

  • Sensitivity to sound on the affected side

  • Irritation of the eye on the affected side

It’s important to see a doctor if you believe that you have developed Bell’s Palsy. Many of the symptoms and signs are similar to other more severe conditions such as a brain tumor or stroke.

People affected by a mild case of Bell’s Palsy will typically suffer no long-term complications. Recovery can take anywhere between one month to six months, depending on the severity. There are, however, instances where the condition is far more serious. 

Severe cases of Bell’s Palsy may cause the following:

  • Irreversible damage to the facial nerve that controls your facial muscles

  • Nerve fibers regrowing abnormally causing involuntary movement of other muscles in your face. 

  • Partial or complete blindness in the eye on the affected side due to not being able to close properly.

Causes of Bell’s Palsy

When the seventh cranial nerve becomes compressed or swollen, it causes Bell’s Palsy to occur. The cause of Bell’s Palsy is still unknown, but there are many medical researchers who believe it could be triggered by a viral infection. There are a variety of viruses and bacteria that have been linked to Bell’s Palsy such as:

  • Lyme Disease - A bacterial infection caused when a person is bitten by an infected tick.

  • Herpes Zoster Virus - A virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.

  • Influenza B - A highly contagious flu virus.

  • Mumps

  • Rubella - A contagious viral infection known to most as the measles.

Treatment Options for Bell’s Palsy

Many cases of Bell’s Palsy do not require treatment, but your doctor may prescribe medications to treat it. If a virus or bacteria caused the condition you may be prescribed an antiviral medication or something to reduce the inflammation. A doctor may even prescribe eye drops to keep the eye on your affected side properly moistened. 

Severe cases of Bell’s Palsy may leave you with nerve damage that has permanently affected your ability to move the muscles in your face. This facial paralysis can be debilitating, making it difficult to speak, blink, express, smile, or swallow. Plastic surgery can help to address these issues. 

Facial Plastic Surgery Options for Facial Paralysis

Dr. Myron Tanenbaum is a renowned plastic surgeon and ophthalmologist in Miami, FL. He offers reconstructive surgery for those suffering from permanent negative effects from Bell’s Palsy. Call (305) 273-5353 to learn more about the cosmetic procedures his practice provides.