Bell’s Palsy is the facial paralysis caused by a dysfunction of the facial nerve that affects one side of the face. The facial nerve is one of your twelve cranial nerves that originate in the brain and brainstem.
When it is working well the facial nerve has multiple functions (sensory, motor and parasympathetic):
1/. Innervation of the muscles in the face.
2/. Provides taste sensation to front two thirds of the tongue.
3/. Supplies some of the glands around the head and neck.
Damage to the facial nerve can therefore cause disruption to many different functions around the head and neck. Issues can arise anywhere along the path of the nerve from where it exits in the brainstem to where it terminates in the face. Symptoms will differ depending on whether the lesion is within the cranium itself (intracranial) or outside the cranium (extracranial).
Symptoms affect one side of the face and can vary depending on the site of damage:
- Muscle weakness causing difficulty or the inability to move the muscles on one side (the affected side) of the face.
- Drooping eyelid
- Drooping corner of the mouth
- Difficulty closing one eye
- Drooling around the mouth
- Decreased or excessive tearing in one eye
- Decreased taste at the front of the tongue
- Pain behind the ear
Cause of Bell’s Palsy:
These symptoms often begin quickly and unfortunately there does not appear to be a clear cause. It is thought that inflammation, compression or swelling of the facial nerve may cause damage. It is also possible that this inflammation may be due to a viral infection.
Unfortunately, there is no single test to diagnose Bell’s Palsy. Testing therefore focuses eliminating any other possible cause of symptoms. Your doctor will send you for further investigations to rule the other options out.
Bell’s Palsy is normally treated with a course of steroid medication to try to decrease the inflammation and swelling of the facial nerve. In some cases, antiviral medication may be prescribed to treat a contributing viral infection.
Physiotherapy is not the first line of treatment for Bell’s Palsy therefore if you are experiencing symptoms please see a medical professional. However, Physiotherapy may be able to offer guidance with facial muscle exercises to try to improve function in the affected facial muscles.
If you have ongoing facial weakness after a Bell’s Palsy diagnosis, come in to see the team at Bend + Mend Physiotherapy in Sydney’s CBD.