Bell's palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis on one side. This face droop is usually temporary. And it isn’t life-threatening.
Any new facial paralysis may be an emergency. Get medical help right away. Treatment for Bell's palsy works best if it's started in the first three days.
If your facial paralysis isn’t getting better, you probably need a specialist. At UVA, our experts have the tools and experience to give you the options you need.
From Facial Paralysis to Recovery
Bell's palsy is a sudden weakness of muscles in one side of the face. Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon Sam Oyer, MD, discusses Bell’s palsy treatment options and recovery. View Bell's palsy transcript.
Bell's Palsy Treatment
If we discover the underlying cause of your facial paralysis, we may be able to treat it. Treatment for these underlying conditions may include medication or surgery.
If you're diagnosed with Bell's palsy without a clear cause, we'll likely start medical treatment right away.
Medicines for treating your Bell’s palsy might include:
- Corticosteroids, to help swelling and pain
- Antiviral medication, to fight viruses
Your provider may give you corticosteroids if you’ve only had symptoms for a short time. Antiviral medications might be prescribed along with corticosteroids. Combining these medications can improve your chances of complete recovery. It also reduces the risk of developing complications.
Physical therapy can improve the movement in your face. It's especially helpful if movement is already returning to your face.
We also offer emotional support. Bell's palsy can be distressing. We can help you manage your feelings about your condition.
We have several options for facial reanimation that can help.
If your eyelid is affected, you’ll need to protect your eye. You might need to:
- Use eye drops or other lubricants
- Cover and tape your eye closed at night
- Use an eye patch
Massaging the weakened face muscles may also help.
Sudden Face Droop? Call 911
Sudden drooping or weakness on one side of your face is an emergency. You might be having a stroke. Strokes come on suddenly and can be life-threatening.
If you have sudden facial paralysis, get help immediately. Call emergency services right away.
How Did I Get Bell’s Palsy?
Usually, we don’t know the exact cause. Sometimes, we find that infections have caused the swelling and paralysis.
Infections in your nerves might come from:
- Herpes simplex (usually the cause of Bell's palsy)
- Shingles or chickenpox (can cause Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a more severe form of Bell's Palsy)
- Lyme disease (from a tick bite)
Factors that can increase your risk of getting Bell's palsy include:
- Family members who have Bell's palsy
- Autoimmune disorders
- Infections (such as HIV, cold, or flu)
- Weakened immune system
- Certain medications
- High blood pressure
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
Bell's palsy symptoms happen suddenly or develop over a few days. Initial symptoms may include:
- Pain behind the ear followed by weakness and paralysis in your face
- Ringing sound in your ears
- Trouble hearing
- Slight increase in sensitivity to sound on the affected side
- Changes in taste
Symptoms of advanced Bell's palsy include:
- Facial weakness or paralysis, most often on one side
- Numbness just before the weakness starts
- Drooping corner of the mouth
- Decreased tearing
- Inability to close an eye, which can lead to:
- Dry, red eyes
- Ulcers forming on the eye
- Problems with taste on one side
- Sound sensitivity in one ear
- Slurred speech
Complications can also occur 3-4 months after you first get Bell’s palsy. These symptoms include:
- Long-lasting tightening of the facial muscles
- Tearing from the eye while chewing
- Facial muscle spasm or twitching
- Involuntary movements of more than one facial muscle at a time (synkinesis)
Recovery from Bell’s palsy can take up to a full year. But for most people, it goes away after a few months. Symptoms often get better on their own in a few weeks. Your face should return to normal movement. You’ll need to see specialists if you:
- Develop complications from Bell’s palsy
- Don’t see any improvement after six months
- Haven’t recovered after one year
In certain cases, some symptoms of Bell's palsy don’t go away. You may have lasting weakness, tightening, or spasming in your face muscles. As you get older, it’s more likely you’ll have lasting symptoms.
Bell’s Palsy: Getting a Diagnosis
To evaluate your facial paralysis, we’ll:
- Check your symptoms with a physical exam
- Take your medical history
- If needed, extra tests to check for other causes