Bell’s palsy is a condition marked by swelling and compression of the nerve responsible for movement of the facial muscles. The condition’s effects are normally only temporarily, and most people recover fully. However, some people have reoccurring symptoms or symptoms severe enough to cause long-term effects.
Bell’s palsy is caused by inflammation and swelling--often in relation to a viral infection--that affects the nerve responsible for the movement of face muscles. The nerve travels through a narrow, bony tube or tunnel as it moves towards the face. The swelling can lead to pressure from the bone and damage to this important nerve.Those with more severe nerve damage are more likely to experience long-term effects of Bell’s palsy. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, this condition affects about 40,000 people living in the United States each year and is most common among those between the ages of 15 and 60.
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy include facial paralysis or weakness that occurs suddenly. The paralysis makes it hard for the affected person to smile or close his eyes on the side of the face that has the problem. If you have this condition, you may also have difficulty making facial expressions, and you may notice pain in front of or behind the ear on the paralyzed side. Sounds may also appear louder on one side and headaches, loss of taste, and saliva- and tear-production changes may be evident. These symptoms are only temporary for most people.
Most people recover fully from this condition, even if they do not have medical treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, mild cases require an average recovery time of about a month. However, recovery may take longer if you have experienced total paralysis of the facial muscles. In such a case, you may not fully recover normal facial function, or months may pass before your recovery is complete. According to the University of California, about 85 percent of patients fully recover from Bell’s palsy.
In some cases of Bell’s palsy, a patient experiences serious and lasting damage to the facial nerves. As the damaged facial nerve fibers regrow, they may join to the wrong muscles, causing incorrect facial movements or even a deformed appearance when the facial muscles contract. When you blink, for example, your mouth may move into a smile, or you may shed tears whenever you eat. Some people also experience weakness around the muscles of the eye and problems closing the eyelid, which cause the cornea to become too dry or even injured. The result can be eye pain and even blindness.
When long-term effects of Bell’s palsy involve the eye, lubricating drops may be used to prevent excessive dryness and keep the eye healthy. Sometimes, surgery is needed to add an attachment to the eyelids that assists with proper closure and keeping the eye moist. In some cases, nerve graft surgery may be used to improve facial function. Muscle slings may be used to improve facial muscle function, as well.