What Does It Feel Like When You Have Bell's Palsy?

Bell's palsy affects around 40,000 Americans yearly, with a higher incidence in those between 15 to 45 years old, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Bell's palsy is a disorder of the seventh cranial or facial nerve, which controls the movement of facial muscles (via MedlinePlus). The damage to this nerve can lead to various mild symptoms that disappear relatively quickly, but in some cases, facial weaknesses may last for a lifetime, per the National Health Service (NHS).

While the exact cause of Bell's palsy is unknown, the condition is believed to be due to inflammation or swelling of the nerve that controls the muscles on one half of the face, per Mayo Clinic. In some cases, Bell's palsy can be linked to a viral infection, such as the herpes simplex 1 virus, which may account for many Bell's palsy cases (via WebMD). Other possible viral causes include influenza B, adenovirus, coxsackievirus, and cytomegalovirus.

Symptoms of Bell's palsy

Bell's palsy is often characterized by a temporary weakness or immobility of half your face. People with the condition experience symptoms gradually, with some symptoms of Bell's palsy lasting up to 9 months (via the NHS).

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), the symptoms of Bell's palsy sometimes mimic those associated with other health problems like Guillain-Barre syndrome, myasthenia, and multiple sclerosis. Symptoms often include paralysis on one side of the face, drooling, pain behind the ear, and inability to control blinking on the affected side (via Healthline). 

While facial paralysis is the most profound symptom of Bell's Palsy, accompanying symptoms may include earache, taste loss, hearing loss, and dizziness, per a 2017 study published in the Journal of Audiology and Otology. The findings of another 2017 study published in the European Annals of Otorhinolaryngology revealed significantly lower lip force, poor articulation, and a reduced ability to eat and control saliva in people with peripheral facial palsy, of which Bell's palsy is the most common cause.

It's important to seek urgent medical attention if a person experiences drooping on one half of the face or has difficulty speaking or lifting both arms and keeping them lifted, since the symptoms of stroke and Bell's palsy can appear similar, warns the NHS.

Diagnosis and treatment of Bell's palsy

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the diagnosis of Bell's palsy involves a clinical presentation of facial weakness with onset over a period of two or three days. See your doctor if you have symptoms of Bell's palsy. Your doctor might recommend tests to rule out other causes of facial paralysis.

As for treatment, there's no specific solution that works for all people with Bell's, according to Mayo Clinic. Many people recover fully without treatment, while others might need medication or physical therapy.

Your treatment options might be based on the specific symptoms you experience. Oral corticosteroids, for example, are sometimes prescribed to help alleviate facial nerve inflammation (via American Family Physicians).

Your doctor might also prescribe analgesics to help with pain, or physical therapy to stimulate facial nerves, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. In rare cases where standard medication and therapies don't work, you may need to undergo surgery.