Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles is swollen, inflamed, or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis.
Exactly what causes this damage, however, is unknown. Most scientists believe that a viral infection such as viral meningitis or the common cold sore virus, herpes simplex, causes the disorder.
They believe that the facial nerve swells and becomes inflamed in reaction to the infection, causing pressure within the Fallopian canal and leading to an infarction (the death of nerve cells due to insufficient blood and oxygen supply). In some mild cases (where recovery is rapid), there is damage only to the myelin sheath of the nerve. The myelin sheath is the fatty covering-which acts as an insulator-on nerve fibers in the brain.
The disorder has also been associated with influenza or a flu-like illness, headaches, chronic middle ear infection, high blood pressure, diabetes, sarcoidosis, tumors, Lyme disease, and trauma such as skull fracture or facial injury.
How is it treated?
There is no cure or standard course of treatment for Bell’s palsy. The most important factor in treatment is to eliminate the source of the nerve damage.
Bell’s palsy affects each individual differently. Some cases are mild and do not require treatment as the symptoms usually subside on their own within two weeks.
For others, treatment may include medications and other therapeutic options. Facial massage and exercises may help prevent permanent contractures (shrinkage or shortening of muscles) of the paralyzed muscles before recovery takes place. Moist heat applied to the affected side of the face may help reduce pain.
Other therapies that may be useful for some individuals include relaxation techniques, acupuncture, electrical stimulation, biofeedback training, and vitamin therapy (including vitamin B12, B6, and zinc), which may help nerve growth.