Bell’s Palsy in Athens, Georgia

Athens, GA Bell’s Palsy

What is Bell’s palsy?

Facial nerve weakness or paralysis, commonly known as Bell’s palsy, affects one of the facial nerves located on each side of the face. These nerves play a crucial role in controlling the facial muscles responsible for expression. In the event that one of these nerves becomes weak or paralyzed, the corresponding side of the face droops and may present difficulty in smiling or closing the eye on that side.

How does it occur?

Despite extensive research, the precise cause of Bell’s palsy remains unknown. However, a widely accepted theory suggests that a viral infection may cause inflammation in the facial nerve, leading to compression against the bony canal that links the brain to the facial muscles. This compression can result in nerve damage, rendering it incapable of controlling the facial muscles, leading to partial or complete loss of muscle control in the affected area.

What are the symptoms?

The initial symptom of Bell’s palsy often presents as a dull ache behind the ear on the affected side of the face. This is soon followed by weakness or paralysis of the corresponding facial muscles, typically starting in the lower part of the face.

Other possible symptoms are:

  • watery eye
  • one eye won’t close completely
  • decreased taste
  • a change in hearing
  • trouble smiling with one side of your mouth
  • trouble drinking or chewing
  • slurring of your words when you talk.

Bell’s palsy can range in severity, with some experiencing mild weakness, while others may encounter complete paralysis of one side of their face.

The onset of symptoms may occur rapidly, over a few hours, or gradually, over a couple of days. The faster the symptoms develop, the more severe the weakness or paralysis is likely to be.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately to rule out the possibility of a stroke, as it can be challenging to distinguish between the two conditions. Prompt treatment of a stroke within the first three hours of symptom onset may prevent long-term damage or even death.

How is it diagnosed?

Upon seeking medical attention, your healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive assessment, including a detailed inquiry about your symptoms and a physical examination, to eliminate other possible causes such as injury, stroke, or tumor. They may also conduct a hearing test or brain scan and perform electrical testing on the facial nerve to evaluate the extent of nerve damage.

How is it treated?

After confirming a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy, your healthcare provider may prescribe steroid medication, such as prednisone, alongside antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, to help prevent permanent effects. Physical therapy, involving exercises and massage, may also aid in preserving muscle strength and flexibility while waiting for symptoms to subside.

In severe cases of paralysis, surgery may be recommended to alleviate pressure on the nerve. Additionally, if the eye on the affected side does not close entirely, protective measures such as eye patching, eyedrops, or eye ointments may be necessary to prevent issues such as dust or dryness, which could lead to vision loss if left unprotected.

How long will the effects last?

Those experiencing some muscle movement during Bell’s palsy have a favorable prognosis for a complete recovery. However, those with complete paralysis, indicating a lack of movement in the facial muscles, have a reduced chance of regaining full muscle function.

Even mild instances of Bell’s palsy can persist for several weeks, and it may take months before the extent of muscle control recovery is evident. It is uncommon to encounter Bell’s palsy more than once, so if facial paralysis recurs, it may indicate another underlying issue that requires prompt medical attention.

How can I help take care of myself if I develop Bell’s Palsy?

  • Acetaminophen or nonprescription anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen may help decrease your pain. NSAIDs may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take NSAIDs for more than 10 days for any reason.
  • Relaxation techniques, acupuncture, electrical stimulation, or biofeedback training may help. Ask your healthcare provider about your particular situation.
  • Gentle facial massage may help you get back more muscle movement as you recover.
  • Mild heat or cold packs used for 15 to 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a day may also help lessen discomfort. Never put ice directly on your skin. This could cause frostbite to the area.

If your eye is not closing completely, keep it moist. Some things that might help your eye from becoming too dry are:

  • Use artificial tears when you are awake to replace normal moisture in the eye.
  • Use lubricant ointment when you are sleeping. The ointment may be used also when you are awake if artificial tears don’t give enough protection. However, the ointment may temporarily blur your vision.
  • Wear eyeglasses or a shield to protect the eye. Wear eyeglasses with tinted lenses or sunglasses when you are in direct sunlight.

While using a computer, it is crucial to ensure your eyes remain hydrated. Individuals often blink less frequently while working at a computer, which can worsen dryness if left untreated. Keep eyedrops on hand and consider manually blinking your eye using the back of your index finger if necessary.

To avoid food particles getting trapped between your gum and cheek, pay particular attention to cleaning your teeth, gums, and mouth.

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