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Bell’s Palsy

Bell's palsy is temporary weakness or paralysis of your facial muscles. It can occur when a viral infection or underlying illness causes the nerve that controls the muscles that move one side of your face to get swollen, inflamed or compressed. This leads to muscle weakness that affects your appearance.

The most common Bell's palsy symptom is drooping on one side of your face. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these other signs:

  • Difficulty eating or drinking
  • Dizziness
  • Drooling
  • Eye dryness
  • Headache
  • Impaired speech
  • Loss of taste
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw or behind your ear
  • Ringing in one or both ears (tinnitus)

Bell's palsy: what you should know

  • Bell's palsy often occurs on just one side of the face.
  • Symptoms of Bell's palsy often start suddenly and worsen within 48 hours.
  • Your primary care doctor at Rush can diagnose Bell's palsy with a physical examination and tests to rule out other causes of facial weakness and paralysis.
  • Bell's palsy is typically temporary. With or without treatment, your symptoms will likely improve within four to six weeks. On average, it takes three to six months before you have fully recovered.
  • Having symptoms does not necessarily mean you have Bell's palsy. Other conditions have similar symptoms. Specialists at Rush can help you get to the root of these problems.

Care for Bell’s palsy at Rush

Your treatment for Bell's palsy depends on the condition that is causing it. Some possible treatments include the following:

  • Medications: Your doctor might prescribe steroids after the onset of Bell's palsy to help reduce inflammation and swelling. Your doctor might also prescribe anti-viral medications, as well.
  • Physical therapy: Specific exercises and massage can help maintain your muscle tone to potentially improve your recovery.
  • Cosmetic or reconstructive surgery: In very rare severe cases, your doctor might suggest surgery to correct long-lasting damage, such as an inability to close your eyelid. Plastic and reconstructive surgeons at Rush offer the most advanced cosmetic procedures to treat facial paralysis. These include gracilis smile restoration, a facial reanimation procedure that can restore your ability to smile, and masseter-to-facial nerve transfer.

Why choose Rush for Bell's palsy care

  • Primary care physicians at Rush provide expert care for complex health problems, including Bell's palsy and conditions associated with it.
  • If your primary care doctor believes you need more specialized care, you will be referred to a neurologist at Rush. The neurology and neurosurgery program at Rush is consistently ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Plastic and reconstructive surgeons at Rush were among the first in the nation to offer gracilis smile restoration, a cutting-edge facial reanimation procedure. Unlike other procedures that only enable a slight raising of the corners of the mouth, gracilis muscle transfer can restore a person's ability to smile.  

Departments and programs that treat this condition