Palsy means a weakness or paralysis. Bell’s palsy is named for Sir Charles Bell, a 19th century Scottish surgeon who was the first to describe the condition.
Bell’s palsy results from upper respiratory infections, viral infections such as those caused by infectious mononucleosis, herpes, mumps, HIV viruses, and bacterial infections such as Lyme Disease. Facial weakness from Bell’s palsy is due to the facial nerve which is a nerve that controls the muscles on the side of the face and it a form of peripheral neuropathy.
Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls facial muscles on one side of the face becomes swollen or inflamed. When this occurs, the function of the facial nerve is disrupted, causing an interruption in the messages the nerves send to the facial muscles. This interruption results in facial weakness or paralysis.
Generally, Bell’s palsy affects only one of the facial nerves and one side of the face, however, in rare cases, it can affect both sides.
Each facial motor nerve directs the muscles on one side of the face, including those that control eye blinking and closing, and facial expressions such as smiling and frowning. Additionally, these nerves carry nerve impulses to the lacrimal or tear glands, the saliva glands, and the muscles of a small bone in the middle of the ear called the stapes. The facial nerve also transmits taste sensations from the tongue.
Thus, damage to the facial motor nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face causes that side of the face to droop. The nerve damage may also affect the sense of taste and how the body makes tears and saliva. It can make the face feel stiff and the smile one-sided and the eye resists closing.
Bell’s palsy is not the result of a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). While they both can cause facial paralysis, there is no link between Bell’s palsy and either of these conditions.
Bell’s palsy can affect anyone, but rarely affects people under the age of 15 or over the age of 60.
For most people, Bell’s palsy symptoms improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in three to six months. About 10 percent will experience a recurrence of Bell’s palsy, sometimes on the other side of the face. A small number of people continue to have some Bell’s palsy signs and symptoms for life.
What can you do?
Bell’s Palsy comes from damage to the facial nerve. It is a form of neuropathy and can be addressed as neuropathy (nerve damage).
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