- What Is
- Who Is at Risk?
What is Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s palsy happens when the 7th cranial nerve in your face becomes damaged. The nerve controls lots of muscles in your face, including muscles for:
- Opening and closing your eyes
- Part of the inner ear
The 7th nerve also sends signals to your tear and saliva glands, and taste signals to your tongue. When the nerve is damaged, your muscles and glands won’t receive signals, which leads to problems.
What causes Bell’s palsy?
It’s not clear what causes Bell’s palsy. Some people have an inherited tendency to Bell’s palsy, but in most cases, it’s likely caused by viral infections that damage your nerves, a low immune system, or an immune system disorder. Immune problems can happen from:
- Minor illness
- Autoimmune disease, where your immune system mistakenly attacks your body
- Lack of sleep
During an infection or reaction, the facial nerve becomes irritated and inflamed, leading to pressure, lack of blood supply, and swelling. The inflammation causes problems with signaling and muscle weakness or paralysis. In mild cases, the damage might only happen to the covering over the nerve called the myelin sheath.
Bell’s palsy can also look like other conditions, including:
- Lyme disease
- Brain tumor
- Myasthenia gravis, a condition where your immune system attacks communication between nerves and muscles
- Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, where varicella-zoster virus is reactivated and spreads to your facial nerves
If your doctor can’t find an underlying cause of muscle weakness in your face, they might diagnose you with Bell’s palsy.
What are the symptoms of Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s palsy symptoms come on suddenly, especially after being in the cold, and quickly get worse. Early symptoms can include:
- Ear pain
- Ringing in your ear
- Stiff neck
- Weakness on one side of your face
- Stiffness on one side of your face
- Drooping on one side of your face
- Twitching in your face
- Trouble talking or eating
Depending on the part of the nerve affected, you might also have Bell’s palsy symptoms like:
- Dry eye
- Loss of taste
- Trouble closing your eye
- Sensitivity to sound
- Loss of feeling in your face
Bell’s palsy can look like other conditions, so it’s important to see your doctor.
Who is at risk for Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s palsy can happen to anyone and at any age, but it’s most common between age 15 and 60. It’s more likely to happen with some conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Preeclampsia, which causes high blood pressure during pregnancy
- The flu
- A common cold
- Upper respiratory conditions
If you’ve had Bell’s palsy before, you’re also more likely to get it again.
How is Bell’s palsy diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually diagnose Bell’s palsy by looking at it. They’ll take your medical history and ask questions about your symptoms. There are no specific tests for Bell’s palsy, but your doctor might do some tests to rule out other conditions or to check nerve damage. These include:
What is the treatment for Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s palsy usually goes away on its own within 1 or 2 months. Your doctor might give you steroid medications to lower nerve inflammation and repair your nerves. It’s usually best to start these as soon as you have symptoms, but they also don’t work for some people.
Your doctor might also suggest other Bell’s palsy treatments like:
- Massage or electrical stimulation to build muscle tone
- Antiviral medications if you have an infection
- Pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Eye drops
- Eye patch
Sometimes very severe cases can lead to a crooked smile that doesn’t get better or an eyelid that won’t close. You can have surgery to correct the damage though this doesn’t happen very often.
Bell’s palsy treatment also includes taking care of yourself at home. You can:
- Eat healthy foods
- Get plenty of rest
- Wear sunglasses outside
- Use a heating pad to ease pain and swelling
Can you recover from Bell’s palsy?
Most people fully recover from Bell’s palsy. While you generally will get better within a few months, it might take longer if you have a lot of nerve damage. Some people have side effects that last and range from mild to severe.
If you notice muscle weakness in your face or other symptoms, talk to your doctor.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Family Physicians: "Bell's Palsy."
JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE: "Bell's Palsy."
National Institute of Health National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Bell's Palsy Fact Sheet."
National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Bell's Palsy," "Myasthenia Gravis."
Top Who Is Most Likely to Get Bell's Palsy Related Articles
How Can You Tell the Difference Between Bell's Palsy and a Stroke?Bell's palsy and stroke have similar symptoms, but they are two very different conditions. Learn more about what makes them different, recognize each's symptoms, and how to treat both.
Bell's Palsy (Facial Nerve Problems)Bell's palsy is one type of facial nerve paralysis. The seventh cranial nerve controls the muscles of the face, and although scientists do not know the exact cause of Bell's palsy, they think it may be due to nerve damage from an infection, for example, the flu, common cold viruses, and more serious infections like meningitis. The symptoms of Bell's palsy vary from person to person, but can include mild weakness to total paralysis, dry eye, dry mouth, eyelid drooping, drooling, mouth drooping, dry mouth, changes in taste, and excessive tearing in one eye.
Nerve Pain SlideshowLearn about nerve pain symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Discover medications and natural remedies to relieve nerve pain.
What Causes Bell’s Palsy?What causes Bell's palsy and how do you recognize it? Learn the signs of Bell's palsy and how doctors treat it.