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Bell's palsy is a form of facial paralysis.

Bell's palsy is a form of facial paralysis.
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Bell’s palsy

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Bell’s palsy is a sudden weakness or paralysis of one side of the face. It is caused by inflammation or damage to the facial nerve. It is usually temporary – most people recover fully.

What is Bell’s palsy?

Bell’s palsy is a weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles that usually affects just one side of the face.

It is thought to be mainly caused by an infection with a virus.

The infection inflames or puts pressure on the nerve that controls your facial muscles. It can be mild, or it can be severe.

Most people recover without treatment in 3 to 9 months.

Bell’s palsy signs and symptoms

The main symptom is weakness or paralysis of one side of the face. It usually is at its worst within 2 to 3 days of starting. It can also cause:

  • drooping eyelid or difficulty closing one eye
  • difficulty smiling and making facial expressions
  • drooping of one side of the mouth
  • difficulty eating and drinking
  • drooling
  • pain or sensitivity around the affected area
  • headache
  • loss of taste
  • changes in the amount of tears or saliva

If you develop these symptoms, see your doctor immediately or go to your nearest emergency department.

Bell’s palsy diagnosis

There is no specific test for Bell’s palsy, but it is important to make sure you don’t have a more serious condition like a stroke or a tumour.

Your doctor will diagnose the condition by examining you carefully. You may be referred to a specialist or have tests such as X-rays or CT scans to rule out other causes.

Bell’s palsy treatment

3 out of 4 people recover, with or without treatment. However, your doctor may prescribe oral steroids, or an antiviral medicine in the first few days of the onset of Bell’s palsy, as this can improve the chances of full recovery.

They may also prescribe lubricating eye drops and an eye ointment to protect the affected eye and recommend physiotherapy or face massage.

Recovery from Bell’s palsy

You can help your recovery by:

  • use prescribed eye drops and ointment regularly
  • wear glasses or goggles during the day
  • use an eye patch or tape your eye shut if recommended

If the pain is bothering you, place a warm, damp washcloth over your face several times a day and take over-the-counter pain medication.

Most people begin improving within two weeks and recover within 3 to 9 months. A few people don’t recover fully and are left with some weakness or paralysis of the muscles in their face.

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Last reviewed: December 2017

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