Bell's Palsy

Bell’s Palsy is a condition which causes temporary muscle weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. This rare condition often affects pregnant women and people suffering from diabetes or HIV — but Bell’s Palsy is only diagnosed if other possibilities are ruled out.

It may take much longer to diagnose Bell's Palsy symptoms if only mild numbness is present. By contrast, a total paralysis is likely to show within 48 hours. An inability to close an eye on the affected side and a droopy mouth may occur as facial muscles fail to work.

In addition, Bell's Palsy causes eye irritation — either through excessive dryness or creating more tears. It also causes pain under the ears.

A change or reduction in sense of taste and jaw pain, headaches or dizziness may also be suffered. Another tell-tale sign is difficulty speaking, eating or drinking.

Are you at risk?

Exactly why facial nerves becomes inflamed or compressed is not known, but it’s thought that a virus may be responsible as one of the primary Bell's Palsy causes.

Suffering from cold sores or genital herpes caused by the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses — or the varicella-zoster virus which causes chicken pox and shingles — may increase the risk.

Having Bell's Palsy in pregnancy is one of the more common scenarios of one of the rarest muscle conditions.

How can you get treatment?

The best advice is to seek medical attention within 72 hours of any Bell’s Palsy symptoms developing. They will first rule out other causes — such as a stroke, tumour or ear infection.

If doubt remains, an electromyography test may be carried out. A thin electrode is inserted into the facial muscles and an oscilloscope measures the electrical activity to assess any nerve damage. Imaging scans may also be used to see how much pressure there is on the facial nerves.

Will you get better?

Most people recover, but there’s some disagreement over whether to speed up the process by using medication.

Doctors continue to debate whether steroids or antiviral medications — or a combination of both —should be used for Bell's Palsy treatment.

Recent evidence suggests that the steroid Prednisolone is most effective and should be administered within 72 hours of symptoms appearing.

Checking with a physician before taking Prednisolone is a must. The steroid may not be advisable if you are breastfeeding.

Should muscle weakness or complete paralysis occur, swiftly consult a doctor so they can quickly rule out other possible causes. Only then should treatment commence to help speed up the recovery.

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