Bell’s palsy is the leading cause of facial paralysis in the United States. It was discovered by Scottish neurologist and anatomist Sir Charles Bell and refers to facial paralysis or weakness that occurs on one side of the face.
Facial paralysis and Bell’s palsy are not interchangeable. Facial paralysis may occur for a number of reasons, including tumors, trauma and salivary gland inflammation. Comparatively, recent studies have indicated that Bell’s palsy occurs if herpes simplex virus (HSV) gets reactivated in the bone behind the ear (temporal bone). When this happens, the nerve becomes swollen and “shuts down” rapidly.
Bell’s palsy generally results in immediate facial paralysis. It often is associated with a feeling or sensation that face movement may be inhibited. If an individual experiences one or more of the following symptoms, it is vital to consult with a doctor immediately. In many instances, Bell’s palsy symptoms disappear on their own within three months of an initial diagnosis. However, if Bell’s palsy symptoms linger for eight months or longer, Dr. Babak Azizzadeh and The Facial Paralysis Institute team can help.
Dr. Azizzadeh is a globally recognized facial plastic and reconstructive surgery expert. He possesses comprehensive knowledge of the facial nerve and associated conditions and is happy to share his Bell’s palsy insights with patients.
Bell’s Palsy Diagnosis:
Patients who experience sudden facial paralysis should go to the emergency room immediately and be evaluated for Bell’s palsy. The typical studies that need to be performed include laboratory testing for Lyme disease, thyroid function test, HIV and hepatitis. A complete neurologic and ear, nose and throat evaluation needs to be done as well. If there are any questions, an ENT specialist or a facial nerve specialist needs to be consulted to make sure that there is no other cause of the facial paralysis other than the Bell’s palsy. Occasionally, a tearing test function, computed tomography (CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam may be completed to identify the root causes of facial paralysis. An electromyography or electroneurography (ENoG) may need to be performed in patients with severe cases of facial paralysis who are believed to have Bell’s palsy.
Facial paralysis and Bell’s palsy are rare and complex conditions, and many physicians and internists lack the expertise and knowledge to perform sufficient testing. Therefore, an individual will want to consult with a facial nerve specialist or ear, nose and throat specialist within the first three weeks of facial paralysis. By doing so, a person can receive the necessary tests to identify and address facial paralysis immediately.
Dr. Babak Azizzadeh of the Facial Paralysis Institute is a globally recognized facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon with unparalleled expertise in the facial nerve.
In approximately 85% of cases, Bell’s palsy will go away on its own and the patient will regain full facial movements. However, if after 8 months the patient is still suffering from Bell’s palsy, it is time for them to meet with Dr. Azizzadeh to explore the broad range of Bell’s palsy treatment options. Dr. Azizzadeh will evaluate each patient and work with him or her to find the best way to deliver the optimal Bell’s palsy treatment results.
Please contact the Facial Paralysis Institute on the right hand side of this page if you have any further questions about finding a specialist in your area.
What Are the Different Types of Bell’s Palsy Testing?
- Complete ear, nose and throat evaluation that enables an individual to find out if there is an inner ear infection or a head or neck tumor or malignancy. The test also may be used to help a person identify and resolve dizziness associated with Bell’s palsy.
- Neurologic assessment to examine an individual’s movement, reflexes, cranial nerves and level of consciousness.
- Hearing test to examine whether an individual has suffered hearing damage or inner ear problems.
- Vestibular test to see if the nerve balance is intact.
- Tearing test to assess an individual’s tearing function.
- CT scan of the neck and temporal bone to evaluate any tumors or trauma.
- MRI of the internal auditory canal and brain to evaluate acoustic neuroma and other types of tumors.
- Electrophysiologic test such as ENoG and EMG to study the electrical flow to the heart.
Treatment Options for Bell’s Palsy:
Bell’s palsy treatment may vary based on time and presentation. If someone develops Bell’s palsy, he or she will need to be evaluated immediately, and other causes of facial paralysis such as tumor, trauma and inner ear infection must be ruled out. A patient may be diagnosed with Bell’s palsy after all other causes of facial paralysis have been ruled out.
Every case of Bell’s palsy is unique. Therefore, it is important for each patient to receive a custom treatment tailored to his or her condition. After an individual receives a Bell’s palsy diagnosis, the initial treatment often involves high-dose steroids (prednisone) and antiviral medications (Famvir or Valtrex). However, if the patient does not recover completely from Bell’s palsy symptoms, surgery may be required.
At the Facial Paralysis Institute, for patients who have complete facial paralysis upon presentation we do recommend obtaining an EMG/ENoG testing in addition to CT scan and MRI. If the ENoG reveals significant dysfunction of the facial nerve, then one of our neuro-otologists will evaluate the patient to see if they are candidates for facial nerve decompression, which may help in reducing the long-term sequelae of facial paralysis. After the initial Bell’s palsy treatment, a patient should follow-up with a facial nerve paralysis expert for the first year. Also, a Bell’s palsy patient may need eye protection, as patients who are dealing with total facial paralysis sometimes struggle to close their eyes completely (lagophthalmos). Patients who present with an inability to close their eyes risk ulcerations and cornea damage.
Selective Neurolysis Surgery For Bell’s Palsy
Selective neurolysis, also known as modified selective neurectomy, is a groundbreaking surgical procedure performed by Dr. Azizzadeh. It is the first permanent treatment for Bell’s palsy and has been shown to help patients achieve a natural-looking smile.
During selective neurolysis for Bell’s palsy, Dr. Azizzadeh uses intraoperative electromyography (EMG) to map out a patient’s facial nerves. Next, he decreases the activity of the facial nerves that hinder the smile mechanism. Dr. Azizzadeh then releases the platysma muscle that pulls the corner of the mouth down, resulting in spontaneous reanimation of the face and a natural-looking smile.
Selective neurolysis is performed at an outpatient surgery center, and the downtime and risks associated with the surgery are minimal. In fact, many patients see results one day following surgery.
Powering the Facial Nerve
Patients who have partial paralysis either from Bell’s palsy, or other etiologies such as acoustic neuroma or temporal bone fractures, may also be candidates for “supercharging” or “signal upgrading” procedure in order to increase the power of the facial nerve and help the facial muscles work more effectively. The concept is to help strengthen weak smile muscles while preserving basic function. The masseteric nerve is the most common nerve utilized to help strengthen the facial nerve. The procedure is an outpatient procedure.
A “supercharging” or “signal upgrading” procedure is available to Bell’s palsy patients that is designed to increase the power of the facial nerve. The procedure simultaneously strengthens weak smile muscles and preserves their basic function.
The supercharging procedure is performed at an outpatient surgery center. In most instances, the masseteric nerve is used during the surgery to help strengthen the facial nerve.
Botox for Bell’s Palsy
Botox injections are one of the most effective treatments for patients with Bell’s palsy, partial facial paralysis and synkinesis. The neuromodulator relaxes the hyperactive muscles and can temporarily restore some facial symmetry and improve appearance. With Botox injections, patients can relax hyperactive muscles in the face. The injections help patients temporarily restore facial symmetry and enhance their facial appearance.
Below is an image of a Bell’s palsy patient before and after Botox for Bell’s palsy treatment with Dr. Azizzadeh.
What Are the Causes of Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s Palsy Risk Factors:
There are many risk factors associated with Bell’s palsy. The main risk factor for developing Bell’s Palsy is pregnancy. Women who are pregnant are more prone than others to Bell’s palsy. Furthermore, research indicates the risk of Bell’s palsy during pregnancy increases during the third trimester or one week after giving birth.
Bell’s palsy has been found in patients who:
- Are pregnant
- Are of Japanese descent
- Have a family member who has suffered Bell’s palsy
- Have suffered Bell’s palsy in the past
In addition, some of the most common risk factors for patients who suffer facial paralysis include:
- Lyme disease
- Typhoid fever
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Temporal bone fracture
- Tumors such as acoustic neuroma
- Various types of viruses
Although Bell’s palsy is a form of facial paralysis, it again is important to remember that Bell’s palsy and facial paralysis are very different. Thus, the causes of Bell’s palsy and the causes of facial paralysis vary. The Facial Paralysis Institute is happy to teach individuals about Bell’s palsy and its risk factors. We also provide a wide range of treatment options to help patients address Bell’s palsy symptoms.
Recovery from Bell’s Palsy
There are three groups of patients recovering from Bell’s palsy:
- Full Recovery: 85 percent of Bell’s palsy patients will recover from Bell’s palsy without any lingering health issues.
- Partial Recovery: 10 percent of Bell’s palsy patients will suffer synkinesis and partial facial paralysis.
- Complete Facial Paralysis: The remaining 5 percent of Bell’s palsy patients will require comprehensive Bell’s palsy treatment.
Numerous factors may increase a Bell’s palsy patient’s risk, including: Failure to receive immediate Bell’s palsy treatment after initial diagnosis Pregnancy Severe symptoms such as facial droop and paralyzed face Due to great advancements in facial nerve treatments over the years, Bell’s palsy patients can rest assured that there is hope to smile again! In fact, Dr. Azizzadeh is a double-board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon who has helped many Bell’s palsy patients throughout his career. He is Harvard-trained and happy to assist Bell’s palsy patients who are not experiencing any or full movement 8 – 9 months after the onset of their facial paralysis.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between Bell’s palsy and a stroke?
Bell’s palsy is a neurological condition that causes facial paralysis on one side of the face. Bell’s palsy is not life-threatening. Also, in most Bell’s palsy cases, the condition’s symptoms disappear on their own within about three months of onset.
Comparatively, a stroke refers to a sudden disruption to the brain’s blood supply. A stroke occurs due to a blockage of arteries connected to the brain or bleeding into brain tissue related to a burst blood vessel.
Bell’s palsy patients sometimes display unilateral facial paralysis, drooping of the mouth on one side of the face and other stroke-like symptoms. However, stroke patients generally do not display forehead or eyelid weakness commonly associated with Bell’s palsy.
Is Bell’s palsy contagious?
No, Bell’s palsy is not contagious.
Does Bell’s palsy hurt?
Bell’s palsy causes a unique sensation in the face. The condition inhibits facial movement, but it typically does not cause pain due to facial nerve damage. In some instances, Bell’s palsy patients experience minimal pain in and around the ears in the first days after onset.
Is Bell’s palsy permanent?
Bell’s palsy is usually not permanent. In rare instances, Bell’s palsy symptoms do not disappear on their own.
If a person is dealing with prolonged Bell’s palsy symptoms, consulting with Dr. Azizzadeh is ideal. Dr. Azizzadeh can offer a personalized treatment to help this individual achieve long-lasting Bell’s palsy symptom relief.
Is Bell’s palsy preventable?
Bell’s palsy is not preventable. Certain viruses cause facial nerve swelling, which sometimes results in Bell’s palsy. Or, in other instances, a person’s genes may make him or her susceptible to Bell’s palsy.
Is acupuncture an effective Bell’s palsy treatment?
Research indicates acupuncture sometimes helps treat Bell’s palsy symptoms. But acupuncture alone is unlikely to help a Bell’s palsy patient correct all of his or her symptoms, at all times.
For those who want to perform acupuncture in conjunction with a Bell’s palsy treatment, it generally is a good idea to consult with a doctor beforehand. That way, a Bell’s palsy patient can ensure that acupuncture won’t interfere with his or her treatment results.
Are there ways to speed up Bell’s palsy treatment recovery?
Physical therapy sometimes helps Bell’s palsy patients treat their facial paralysis symptoms. A physical therapist may provide facial exercises that a Bell’s palsy patient can use to strengthen the facial muscles and improve facial muscle coordination.
Additionally, foods rich in B vitamins may help speed up Bell’s palsy treatment recovery. These foods include whole grains, eggs and fruits and may help repair facial nerve damage caused by Bell’s palsy.
Request your consultation with Dr. Azizzadeh today
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