Bell's Palsy Overview

Portland artist, Rachael Eastman, talks about the irony of contracting Bell's Palsy while preparing 'visages' a show of her paintings of faces
Portland artist, Rachael Eastman, talks about the irony of contracting Bell's Palsy while preparing 'visages' a show of her paintings of faces. Portland Press Herald/Contributor/Getty Images

Bell's palsy is a type of temporary facial paralysis that is limited to one side of the face. The onset of Bell's Palsy is sudden and usually without warning. The key symptom of Bell's Palsy is partial facial paralysis or drooping of one side of the face, which is often accompanied by pain or general discomfort. In rare cases, the condition can affect both sides of the face. Over 40,000 people in the U.S. have Bell's palsy.

Although much is unknown about this disease, at least 75 percent of Bell's palsy cases are preceded by respiratory infections. The first known case of Bell's Palsy was diagnosed in 1882 by Sir Charles Bell of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Symptoms of Bell's Palsy 

The symptoms of Bell's palsy often resemble those of a stroke or tumor. This is often due to the partial facial paralysis that occurs on one side of the face. The possibility of a stroke or tumor must be ruled out before a definitive diagnosis of Bell's palsy is made.

While the cause of Bell's Palsy is yet unknown, many theories about causes of this rare neurological disorder exist. Factors thought to influence or cause Bell's palsy include:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Facial trauma
  • Damage to the facial nerves
  • Upper-respiratory infections
  • Viral infections (such as herpes simplex or viral meningitis)
  • Stress

How is Bell's Palsy Treated?

In many cases, Bell's palsy clears up within two weeks and so no treatments are needed. Other times, steroids, such as prednisone, will be prescribed. Eye drops are especially important for people with Bell's palsy due to the dryness they experience from being unable to blink their eyes properly.

Patients suffering the effects of Bell's palsy should try to relax more to relieve the stress brought on by this disease. The majority of patients improve about 80 percent within a few weeks. Sometimes recovery takes more than three months and for some Bell's Palsy patients complete recovery never occurs. Although failure to recovery completely from Bell's Palsy is rare.

Self-Help Tips for Bell's Palsy Patients

Patients can often help speed their recovery, and help prevent recurrence of Bell's palsy, by faithfully practicing facial massage and facial exercises several times daily. These can be done at home in a mirror, or anywhere that a wall mirror is available. Massage the muscles of the face and practice making faces in the mirror even though no noticeable facial movement may occur.

What You Can Do To Help When Someone Close to You Has Bell's Palsy

If you're reading this article because you have a family member or friend who's been diagnosed with Bell's palsy the single most important thing you can do is to offer your support. Imagine how it must feel to have one side of your face paralyzed and drooping. Give your friend or family member lots of encouragement. Offering to take care of some of the responsibilities that may be the root cause of stress in their life is a huge help. Tell your family member or friend that they are still the same beautiful person that they've always been and remind them that they will recover.

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Article Sources
  • NIH. NINDS. Bell's Palsy Fact Sheet. (2016).