Bell’s Palsy

Side view of man’s head showing facial nerve.Bell's Palsy is a problem involving the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face.

In most cases, the cause is unknown, but may be related to inflammation of the nerve, diabetes, pregnancy, Lyme disease, and viral infections such as herpes or varicella. Symptoms usually appear only on one side. They may include:

  • Inability to close the eyelid

  • Tearing of the eye

  • Facial drooping

  • Drooling

  • Numbness or pain

  • Changes in taste

  • Sound sensitivity

Damage to the eye can be a serious problem. The inability to blink can cause the eye to dry out. An ulcer (sore) can then form on the cornea. Also, not blinking means that the eye has no protection from dirt and dust particles.

Treatment involves protecting and moistening the eye. Medicines, such as steroids, may also help.

Most people recover fully within 3 to 6 months. However, the condition sometimes returns months or years later.

Home care

  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet to help yourself recover.

  • Use artificial tears often during the day and at bedtime to prevent drying. These drops are available without prescription at your drug store.

  • Wear protective glasses especially when outside to protect from flying debris. Use sunglasses when outdoors.

  • Tape the eyelid closed at bedtime with a paper tape (available at your pharmacy). It has a very mild adhesive so won't injure the lid. This will protect your eye from injury while you sleep.

  • Sometimes medicines are prescribed to reduce inflammation or treat specific viral infections of the nerve. If medicines are prescribed, take them exactly as directed. Usually the sooner the medicines are started, the more effective they are. Taking this medicine as prescribed will help with a full recovery.

  • Use low heat, for example from a heating pad, on the affected area. This can help reduce pain and swelling.

  • If you have severe pain, contact your healthcare provider.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider as advised. If you referred to a specialist, make that appointment promptly.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • Severe eye redness

  • Eye pain

  • Thick drainage from the eye

  • Change in vision (such as double vision or losing vision)

  • Fever over 100.4°F (38°C) or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Headache, neck pain, weakness, trouble speaking or walking, or other unexplained symptoms

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