Bell’s palsy is a mysterious occurrence of facial paralysis that affects one side of a person’s face, though sometimes both sides can be affected. The effects of Bell’s palsy vary in severity and in most cases, the condition clears up within six months of its onset. Several treatments to relieve pain and other symptoms related to Bell’s palsy are available, including steroids and antiviral medications.
A Brief Look at Bell’s Palsy
Per the National Institute of Neural Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Bell’s palsy is a type of partial or, in rare occasions, total paralysis of the facial muscles, triggered by an inflamed cranial nerve. On average, 40,000 Americans are affected by onsets of Bell’s palsy each year. It can occur at any age, although it is rare among persons who are under the age of 15 or older than 60. Men and women are equally at risk of getting Bell’s palsy.
In cases where Bell’s palsy occurs in newborn babies, Bell’s palsy has also been linked to maternal infections such as the herpes virus and cold sores.
Although Bell’s palsy symptoms vary from person to person, the most common manifestations include:
- Sudden paralysis of one side of a person’s face, ranging in severity from mild to total. This makes it difficult for the patient to smile, blink, frown, or close the eye on the affected side
- Droop of the face and an inability to make facial expressions
- Pain around the jaw or behind the ear on the affected side
- Dryness in the eye on the affected side
- Impaired ability to taste
- Changes in the patient’s ability to create tears and/or saliva
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Bell’s palsy usually runs its course after a period of time then goes away on its own. Patients’ recovery times vary between two or three weeks to up to six months following the onset of the facial paralysis. In rare cases, however, the effects can be permanent.
Currently, there is no cure for Bell’s palsy. However, doctors have several treatment options that reduce the symptoms and discomfort that affect their patients. Keep in mind that there aren’t any universal treatments for Bell’s palsy since each case differs in scope and severity, and doctors must tailor treatment plans accordingly.
Eye care is important in any instance of Bell’s palsy. The eye on the affected side can’t be closed or moistened naturally by the patient’s tear ducts. A person with facial paralysis must keep the eye moist with artificial tears or other doctor-approved ocular solutions. The eye must also be kept free from dust, pollen, or other debris that may cause scratching to the cornea.
Medications: Antiviral Drugs
Per the Mayo clinic, many cases of Bell’s palsy are connected to a patient’s exposure to viral infections. Mothers with viral infections such as mononucleosis, shingles, chickenpox, influenza-B, German measles, and hand-foot-and-mouth disease are at risk of developing Bell’s palsy, as well as infants of mothers with these infections. As a result of the trigger effect of specific viruses on the seventh cranial nerves, doctors often prescribe antiviral medications to mothers to treat Bell’s palsy.
Acyclovir (Zovirax) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) are antiviral drugs prescribed to treat severe cases of Bell’s palsy. They are used when a physician suspects that a virus caused the onset of the facial paralysis. Both drugs work by halting the progress of the infection along the facial nerve.
Medications: Topical Corticosteroids
Doctors also use steroid-based medications to treat the effects of Bell’s palsy. Physicians often use corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve. Prednisone and other corticosteroid medicines help to lessen the swelling of the affected nerve and allow it to fit inside its corridor in the skull. Corticosteroids are more effective if they are administered within a few days of the onset of the facial paralysis.
Medications: Over the Counter Pain Relief
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy are often painful, but they can be relieved by taking non-prescription analgesics such as infant acetaminophen (Tylenol).
However, parents should always consult with a physician before giving infants over-the-counter medication.
In some cases, doctors may use decompression surgery to relieve pressure on the facial nerve. A surgeon will typically open the bony corridor that houses the seventh cranial nerve to reduce the swelling and allow the nerve to heal. This procedure is risky because it may cause permanent hearing loss and injury to the nerve.
Bell’s palsy can cause the facial muscles in the affected area to atrophy. As a result, physical therapy is often necessary to keep the facial nerve stimulated and maintain muscle tone. Physical therapy includes massaging and exercising the infants’s facial muscles to avoid atrophy.