A paralysis or muscle weakening condition affecting the face, Bell’s palsy is a condition without a verifiable cause. Long associated with the herpes virus, medical experts are still unsure of just what causes Bell’s palsy symptoms or the condition to linger.
Recognizing Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
Simply experiencing a sense of weakness or even paralysis in the face does not indicate the presence of Bell’s palsy. In fact, as medical experts have noted, “Many health problems can cause weakness or paralysis of the face. If a specific reason cannot be found for the weakness, the condition is called Bell’s palsy.” (WebMD.com)
The most common of the Bell’s palsy symptoms are:
- Marked sensitivity to noise or sound
- Pain within or directly behind the ear
- Sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of the face (with difficulty closing the eye on that side of the face as a key indicator of the condition)
- Excessive tearing or dryness of the eye
- Loss of taste
- Numbness on the affected side of the face
NOTE: In some instances, Bell’s palsy may disturb nerves on both sides of the face.
Keep in mind that many other problems can lead to these symptoms, and the wisest course of action is to head to a physician as soon as any of the Bell’s palsy symptoms seem to manifest. Any time there is numbness or paralysis of the facial area, it indicates a serious condition, so do not hesitate to seek medical assistance.
Viral Infections and Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
If you develop any of the Bell’s palsy symptoms listed, and you have been exposed to certain viruses, it increases the likelihood that you have developed the condition. Patients who have had chicken pox or shingles, mononucleosis, German measles, mumps, influenza, cytomegalovirus, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, or genital herpes are among the most likely to develop symptoms.
The actual cause of the symptoms is not the virus but the effect that the virus may have on the nerve controlling facial muscles. This is located in a bone that can become inflamed when exposed to the viral types mentioned. This causes swelling and impairs the muscle, leading to facial symptoms, problems with tear ducts, saliva production, and the ears.
Symptoms of Infant Bell’s Palsy
Knowing that it is a problem with the nerve controlling areas of the face makes it easy to understand why some of the common (and even uncommon) symptoms manifest as they do. Do note that not all babies will have all of the symptoms, and some may show only a few signs at all.
The most recognizable signs of Bell’s palsy in infants include:
Lack of control of facial muscles – You will very rarely see an infant lose control of both sides of the face. Usually, it is paralysis that is limited to one side, and a baby may not be able to close or open the eye on that side. Sometimes the baby may not be able to move the mouth or facial muscles at all. If there is not a total lack of control, it can still be very difficult to simply move any part of the face.
Discomfort – Some infants may seem to tug at the ear or around the jaw when Bell’s palsy is developing in their face. This is due to the pain that many experience on the affected side.
Lack of tears or saliva – When someone suffers from Bell’s palsy, it is often due to inflammation of the nerve. This also impacts the body’s ability to send messages around saliva or tear production in that area too. You may notice that your baby’s eye on the affected side is not producing tears – even if the baby is crying. Alternately, the eye affected may be over producing tears. This same set of problems occurs with the salivary glands and can result in dry mouth or excessive drooling.
Hyper reactive to sound – The inner ear can be affected by Bell’s palsy and it can cause the muscles of the inner ear, known as stapes, to become abnormally sensitive. Because of that, your baby may react as if sounds are far louder than normal.
Taste – Though your baby cannot tell you that their taste is being negatively affected by the condition, if they lose interest in eating, it could be a sign that the condition has caused an interruption in the function of their sense of taste.
Headache – Again, a baby cannot complain of a headache, but if he or she is very weepy and agitated, it could easily be due to a severe headache brought on by the tension in the muscles of the face.
Dizziness – Also, a baby cannot tell you that it feels as if the room is spinning, but the inner ear disruption caused by Bell’s palsy can make it hard for the baby to maintain balance or feel stable – even when lying down.
Do your symptoms of Bell’s palsy mean you are at risk for permanent paralysis? No. Most cases, described by physicians as “mild” will disappear within a month of onset. However, more severe cases can lead to permanent nerve damage, problems with the regrowth of the nerves (which can lead to involuntary muscle contraction around the eyes or face), and partial blindness brought on by the lack of tears. (MayoClinic.org)
A physician is the best resource any time a patient experiences symptoms indicating Bell’s palsy. Though there is not a specific treatment available, in many instances it is possible to reduce symptoms through the use of:
- Corticosteroids – Reducing swelling, these compounds may help remove pressure from the nerve and reduce paralysis
- Antiviral drugs – Since it is believed that Bell’s palsy is closely related to viral infections of specific kinds, treating the infection is often seen as a good way of reducing symptoms of the palsy
- Physical therapy – If the condition lingers overly long, muscle fiber may shorten and require therapeutic intervention
- Surgical treatment – If the nerve remains compressed, surgical release may be possible, but is noted as a risky treatment
Though not uncommon, Bell’s palsy must be dealt with seriously. Around 40k Americans develop it each year, and around 50% recover quickly, while 35% of the remaining patients overcome symptoms in the next year. (BellsPalsy.ws) So, visit your doctor immediately if you show any of the symptoms.
- BellsPalsy.ws. Palsy Info. http://www.bellspalsy.ws/
- MayoClinic.org. Bell’s Palsy. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy/basics/definition/con-20020529]
- WebMD.com. Bell’s Palsy. http://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/bells-palsy-topic-overview