Partial or full-face paralysis can be frightening, especially if symptoms develop rapidly. Facial weakness and drooping can be a sign of serious medical conditions, but can also result from a less dangerous condition, Bell’s Palsy. Although you may be worried, understanding what could be causing facial paralysis and what to expect for treatment are essential to a speedy and low-stress recovery.
Is It Bell’s Palsy or a Stroke?
Bell’s Palsy occurs when facial muscles become paralyzed, most often resulting in temporary drooping and weakness on one side of the face. Although doctors are still unclear on the exact cause, viral illnesses that swell the facial muscles (like meningitis or the flu) can disrupt nerve function and lead to paralysis.
In contrast, stroke is a medical emergency caused by a blood clot or rupture that prevents proper oxygenation of the brain, causing cells to die. Common warning symptoms include paralysis and weakness in one side of the body.
In both conditions, symptoms can develop rapidly, and it is important to get medical help quickly to rule out stroke. If the paralysis is limited to the face area only, the condition is likely Bell’s Palsy.
How Long Does Bell’s Palsy Last?
Bell’s Palsy is temporary in most cases, but recovery time can vary greatly depending on the cause of the condition and the extent of nerve damage. Doctors may use blood tests to check for diabetes or infection that could be causing the paralysis and influencing how long healing will take. ENT doctors (ear, nose, and throat specialist) will use an electromyography (EMG test), MRI, or CT scan to evaluate nerve damage.
Recovery begins between two weeks and six months after the first onset of symptoms. Often, return of full normal function comes between three and six months. In a few cases, symptoms never fully disappear. In rare and unusual cases where atypical symptoms are present, such as pain, general physicians refer their patients to ENT doctors.
Will I Need Surgery?
Most likely, no. Mild cases improve on their own, and other cases improve with treatment of the underlying cause, such as infection. Steroids have also been used to reduce swelling, and facial exercises and massage can help with muscle strengthening. However, in some cases where symptoms linger, ENT doctors will evaluate patients to see if reanimation surgery is necessary. Botox injections are also occasionally used to help with relaxing tight facial muscles.
Even though patients can expect several weeks of facial weakness, which influences social interactions and can be very uncomfortable, in general, the prognosis for Bell’s Palsy is positive. Very few individuals require surgery, but specialists have a variety of effective methods to speed along a full recovery.