What is it: Named after Scottish anatomist Charles Bell, who first described it, Bell’s palsy is a non-specific diagnosis given to facial paralysis when all of the specific causes such as a brain tumor, Lyme disease, or stroke have been ruled out. In most cases the paralysis affects one side of the face, giving it slack muscle tone and a characteristic droop along the eye and mouth.
Statistics: In the United States, about one out of every 65 people will experience this condition at some point. Pregnant women and people with diabetes are more at risk than the rest of the population and it is most common among people in their 40s. Worldwide, Bell’s palsy affects nearly one in every five thousand people, and almost 40,000 Americans are affected with the disorder annually. There is no difference in occurrence between males and females.
Important Facts: Doctors are not certain what the exact causes of Bell’s palsy are.
Bell’s palsy is not the result of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). While stroke and TIA can cause facial paralysis, there is no link between Bell’s palsy and either of these conditions.
The prognosis for individuals with Bell’s palsy is generally very good. The extent of nerve damage determines the extent of recovery. Improvement is gradual and recovery times vary. With or without treatment, most individuals begin to get better within 2 weeks after the initial onset of symptoms and most recover completely, returning to normal function within 3 to 6 months.
The fact that Bell’s palsy is a diagnosis of exclusion becomes apparent in the course of the medical examination–the usual mode of examination is to rule out other disorders until only Bell’s palsy is left.
Treatment: Approximately 50% of Bell’s palsy cases clear up on their own within 1 month or less. For those individuals that do not find themselves so lucky, it’s important to begin a treatment regimen immediately to avoid potential long term nerve damage and prolonged facial paralysis.
Most people who have Bell’s palsy recover completely, without treatment, in 1 to 2 months.2 This is especially true for people who can still partly move their facial muscles.
Recent studies have shown that steroids such as the steroid prednisone –– used to reduce inflammation and swelling –are effective in treating Bell’s palsy.
Dos/Don’ts: Do protect your eyes. Bell’s palsy can interrupt the eyelid’s natural blinking ability, leaving the eye exposed to irritation and drying. Therefore, keeping the eye moist and protecting the eye from debris and injury, especially at night, is important. Lubricating eye drops, such as artificial tears or eye ointments or gels, and eye patches are also effective.
Common Myths: What doctors don’t tell you or maybe they don’t know is that 60% of Bell’s palsy patients are infected with Lyme disease. The Bells Palsy effect is the Lyme moving into the Acute or Chronic stage. Many doctors especially out here on the West Coast don’t know much about Lyme or even give it merit. If you have Bell’s palsy you need to have a good Lyme test to rule it out, even then you may not have an accurate test.
Bell’s palsy causes diabetes. Although Bell’s palsy suffers have a much higher incidence of diabetes mellitus than the general population, there is absolutely no evidence that Bell’s palsy causes diabetes.