Bell’s palsy, also called facial palsy, is sudden, but usually temporary, facial paralysis or weakness that happens on one side of the face. It involves damage to the cranial (facial) nerve, which controls the muscles used for blinking and facial expressions.
Bell’s Palsy Causes and Symptoms
The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown. Some research suggests that it’s related to facial nerve inflammation or swelling caused by an immune response to a virus.
Some risk factors for Bell’s palsy include pregnancy, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and upper respiratory infections. In rare cases, a head and neck tumor can cause it by pressing against the facial nerve.
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy come on fast and can worsen within two to three days. They include the following:
- Facial droop on one side
- Trouble blinking or closing the eye
- Difficulty smiling or squinting
- Pain in the jaw or behind the ear
- Sensitivity to sound
- Loss of taste
- Teary eyes
Bell’s Palsy vs. Stroke
Other conditions, such as stroke, can also cause one-sided facial paralysis. But you can see the difference between Bell’s palsy and a stroke by how much of the face is affected.
For example, Bell’s palsy involves the entire side of the face including the forehead. Stroke usually affects only the lower portion of the face.
A stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you experience sudden facial paralysis along with one-sided arm or leg weakness, slurred speech or vision loss, call 911.
Treatment for Bell’s Palsy at Rush
Bell’s palsy is often temporary and can go away within months. It can be treated by a neurologist or your primary care provider. Quick and comprehensive treatment can improve your recovery and reduce your risk for long-term problems.
If it doesn’t go away, Rush’s facial nerve disorders team provides a full range of treatments and follow-up care for Bell’s palsy. This includes selective denervation surgery — an innovative procedure performed by only a few surgeons in the country.
Your care plan may include:
- Corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the facial nerve. We may use higher doses to help bring down swelling faster and minimize nerve damage.
- Medications, like antiviral drugs to treat infections and help reduce the risk for long-term problems and pain medications to ease symptoms.
- Botulinum toxin injections or Botox to help improve facial symmetry and muscle movement.
- Facial neuromuscular retraining (also called facial rehabilitation), a type of physical therapy to help you relearn how to move your facial muscles for more symmetrical expression.
- Selective denervation surgery can help chronic or ongoing Bell’s palsy symptoms, including facial or neck tightness or involuntary muscle movement called synkinesis. We use advanced techniques to map and treat certain facial nerves to help improve your smile and facial symmetry.
Rush Excellence in Bell’s Palsy Care
- Advanced procedures not widely available: Rush facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons are among a handful in the country who perform selective denervation surgery for Bell’s palsy. As leaders in the field, they also provide several innovative facial reanimation procedures for other causes of facial paralysis.
- Team-based expertise: Your care is led by specialists with advanced experience in facial nerve disorders and facial paralysis. Depending on your Bell’s palsy symptoms, your care team can also include specialists in neurology, head and neck surgery, physical therapy and speech therapy.
- Ongoing care you can count on: Bell’s palsy can be chronic for some people. That’s why we provide comprehensive follow-up care to closely monitor you through your recovery. This active care means we can address any new or changing symptoms more quickly.
- Compassionate support: Our team understands how facial paralysis can affect your physical, social and emotional health. We’re dedicated to helping you regain facial movement and symmetry, as well as cope with the psychological effects it can have.