Bell’s palsy is a condition that was first described by a Scottish surgeon, Sir Charles Bell. It is a condition in which one side of the face becomes paralyzed.  In 1829 he presented three cases at the Royal Society of London.  Two cases were of unknown cause and the third was due to a tumor of the parotid gland.

Bell’s palsy accounts for approximately half of all cases of paralysis affecting the face.  Medically, the condition is described as a facial paralysis that comes on suddenly and has no obvious cause, such as an injury.  Typically, Bell’s palsy affects just one side of the face, but in less than one percent of all cases the paralysis may affect both sides of the face at once. The condition is fairly common with data showing that one in 60 or 70 people will be affected at some point in their life.  Most cases occur among people over 40 but it can affect all age groups, including children.  Men and women are equally affected, although pregnancy increases the risk threefold.

The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown.  However, it is believed that a viral infection of the facial nerve is commonly involved.  One possible explanation is that herpes simplex, the virus responsible for cold sores, may lie dormant in the facial nerve and then cause inflammation when it reactivates.  Having diabetes seems to increase the risk, and the condition may also run in families.

The symptoms of Bell’s palsy are likely to come on very quickly, often in a matter of hours or overnight and there may be some sudden pain around the ear.  The main symptom is likely to be paralysis or weakness on one side of the face, along with a sagging eyebrow and difficulty closing the eye.  There are several other possible symptoms:  numbness of the face,  dry mouth, difficulty in speaking, loss of taste in the front portion of the tongue, dryness or watering of the affected eye, a turned out lower eyelid, dribbling when drinking or after brushing teeth, ear pain (especially below the ear) and/or intolerance to loud noises on the affected side.

Bell’s palsy can last for just two to three weeks or much longer.  In 85 percent of cases, however, there is improvement within three weeks.  An early sign of improvement is a good indication that there will be a complete recovery.  Getting back a sense of taste is often a first sign of recovery from the paralysis.

Bell’s palsy generally gets better by itself without any treatment at all; however, many physicians accepting the theory that it is caused by the herpes virus treat with antiviral medications and steroids for the inflammation.  If you have Bell’s palsy, it is important to see your optometrist.  This condition can significantly affect your eye on the side suffering paralysis.  It makes it very difficult, sometimes impossible, to voluntarily close your eye.  Chronic exposure to the elements, due to a lack of blinking, can result in significant inflammation with intense redness, pain, decreased vision, and infection.  It is important to have an eye exam as soon as you develop Bell’s palsy.  The primary goal of treatment is to stop the surface of the eye from drying out and becoming infected or painful. Patients may have to use their finger to regularly close the eyelid to moisten the eye.  More convenient safeguards include protective goggles or an eye shield, patching the eye, or wearing a bandage contact lens to guard against debris and exposure.  Prompt attention with the onset of Bell’s palsy can help result in limited ocular discomfort and a more comfortable course of recovery.

If you have questions concerning Bell’s palsy, please contact one of our offices in Stillwater at 405-372-1715 or Pawnee at 918-762-2573.  We also invite you to visit our website at www.cockrelleyecare.com and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!

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