Bell’s Palsy is a temporary condition that affects the nerves and muscles in the face. It is a unexpected loss of control of movement in the facial muscles. The facial muscles become weaken or paralyzed causing one side of the face to droop or sag. Sir Charles Bell, for which Bell’s Palsy was named after, discovered the
condition in the 19th century. He was a Scottish surgeon who studied nerves and the common cause of facial paralysis. Bell’s Palsy can happen to anyone, but most likely in pregnant women, people with diabetes, and people who have a virus. It affects almost 1 of every 5,000 people and 40,000 Americans per year.
There is a facial nerve that directs the muscle on each side of the face called the 7th cranial nerve. When the function of the nerve is disrupted, the messages that the brain sends to the facial muscles are not received. This is what causes the face to weaken and be paralyzed. The causes of Bell’s Palsy is not yet known, but what we do know is that it happens when the nerve that travels from the brain swells because of an infected virus, like herpes simplex, and the blood supply gets cut off. This causes the cells to die and the nerve can no longer carry any messages to the muscle.
There are two systems that Bell’s Palsy effects the nervous system and the muscular system. With the 7th cranial nerve cells dying, the normal function of the nerve can not take place, which is to send nerve impulses from the brain to the muscles and glands. This effects the muscular system because now the muscles can not receive the impulses from the brain, therefore the muscle can not contract. This is what causes the face on the affected side to sag and droop. A person can also experience difficulties closing and blinking the eye. The tear and saliva glands become inactive and the eye will water uncontrollably and drooling of the mouth will take place. This also makes speaking a challenge since the affected side of the mouth is attracted to the unaffected side. Before the start of Bell’s Palsy the nervous system interacted with the muscle system flawlessly. The nerve impulses would communicate with the muscle and the glands giving them directions on what to do. The muscles would be able to contract and give the face expression again, instead of having part of the face sag, it would be symmetrical.
In diagnosing Bell’s Palsy, there is no clinical tests done. If a person who gets paralyzed in one side of the face, within hours for no apparent reason, would then need to go see their doctor. The doctor would then be able to see the abnormal appearance of the face and the failure to move the face muscles. After the doctor rules out any other possible facial paralysis the next step is to diagnose the patient with Bell’s Palsy. There is a way to tell the extend of the nerve damage by a test called electromyography, but usually the doctor will be able to tell by just the physical appearance of the face.
There isn’t a cure for Bell’s Palsy, just treatment that helps the nerve damage. Most of the time doctors give their patients steroids, which help fight any infections and reduce inflammation. Acyclovir an anti-infection combined with Prednisone, an anti-inflammatory, helps reduce nerve damage and help develop facial functions again. Since one affect to Bells Palsy is that blinking is interrupted and the eye can not blink naturally. So it is important to keep the affected eye moist with eye drops or an eye patch.
It is found that the prognosis of Bell’s Palsy is very good. The recovery depends on the extent of the nerve damage. Most people see improvements within two weeks from the start of the symptoms and a complete recovery within three to six months. It may happen in rare cases that the symptoms never go away.
I think that stress has something to do with the swelling of the nerves. Usually when you get sick it is because you’re immune system is down and I usually find that the immune system is down because of a lot of extra stress. Experts say you are more at risk to develop Bell’s Palsy when you have a virus and you get a virus when your immune system is down and stress causes your immune system to go down. So my only thought on how to prevent this condition is to cut out the stress in your life (if only it was that easy).
“Bell’s Palsy Fact Sheet” http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/pubs/bells_palsy.htm
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