Bell’s Palsy is a type of temporary paralysis of the face, causing one side to droop or become stiff along with the inability to open or close the eye on that side. It is a relatively rare condition and can affect anyone, male and female equally. The symptoms can come on quite quickly and can seem frightening, but they often go away within a few weeks.
What Causes Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s Palsy occurs as a result of trauma or damage to the facial nerve. This nerve in our face directs the muscles, including those that control facial expressions and blinking. The nerve may become inflamed, compressed or swollen and while the cause of this damage is not known, it’s thought that it is most likely triggered by a viral infection. The damage to the nerve causes the messages from the brain to the facial muscles to become disrupted, which leads to weakness in the face, or paralysis.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
Facial weakness and drooping of one side of the face are the most obvious symptoms of Bell’s Palsy, but they are not the only one – sufferers may also notice changes in taste, sensitivity to sound, muscle twitches in the face, numbness, headache, difficulty eating, drooling and ear pain.
A lot of people first notice the signs of Bell’s Palsy after waking up and looking in the mirror. Symptoms will continue to develop over the next three days. Around 90% of people will recover completely in time. However, in some people, Bell’s Palsy can cause long term complications and they do not fully recover nerve function; a small percentage of sufferers will get it again in the future.
How is Bell’s Palsy Diagnosed?
There isn’t a specific medical test to diagnose Bell’s Palsy. A medical practitioner will make a diagnosis based on the patient’s history, a physical examination and discussion about the onset of symptoms. A blood test can check the presence of an infection and your doctor may use an MRI or CT scan to check the nerves in your face. A neurological examination may be carried out to rule out other causes with similar symptoms, such as stroke.
How is Bell’s Palsy Treated?
Left untreated, the majority of sufferers will make a full recovery in as little as a couple of weeks, but this can take up to six months. The use of corticosteroids, a strong anti-inflammatory medication, can increase the chances of a full recovery. Antiviral or antibacterial medication may be prescribed if there is a virus or bacteria present in your body.
It is particularly important to care for the affected eye as it will be prone to dryness and being damaged as it doesn’t have the protection of the eyelid being able to fully close. Eye drops are often used to keep the eye lubricated and in severe cases an eye patch may be recommended.
Over the counter pain medications can assist with the discomfort of symptoms while recovering. For those who suffer chronic effects, other therapies can be used to improve recovery and help to restore the function of the facial nerves and muscles.
Acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy
The symptoms of Bell’s Palsy have been recognised in Chinese medicine for centuries and there are currently several treatments available using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Acupuncture is frequently used to treat Bell’s Palsy in China and there are even hospitals that have entire wards that are dedicated to this condition.
Clinicians at a registered Chinese medicine clinic will perform acupuncture on certain points of the body, and even distal acupuncture, using points away from the affected area, help improve circulation, will reduce inflammation and soothe the body’s nervous system. So there doesn’t necessarily need to be acupuncture needles in the face, which can concern some people, and distal acupuncture allows for specific facial exercises to be performed while the needles are in which can improve the outcome.
The earlier you begin acupuncture after developing Bell’s Palsy symptoms, the higher the chance of recovery. Acupuncture is a safe treatment option, with little to no side effects and can show results within a couple of weeks.
If you would like to try acupuncture for Bell’s Palsy symptoms, contact an experienced Chinese medicine clinic where a specialised clinician can discuss treatment options.