What is the facial nerve?
The facial nerve is a pathway from your brain to certain muscles in your face. It controls muscles that help you make expressions like raising an eyebrow, smiling or frowning. This nerve is also responsible for most of your tongue’s taste sensations.
What is the purpose of the facial nerve?
The facial nerve performs these motor (movement) and sensory functions:
- Controls the muscles that make your facial expressions.
- Controls muscle in your inner ear that moderates loudness of sound.
- Helps make tears.
- Sends information about tastes from your tongue to your brain.
Where is the facial nerve?
The facial nerve is the seventh of 12 cranial nerves in your nervous system. You have two facial nerves, one on each side of your head.
The facial nerve:
- Starts in your brainstem.
- Travels through the base of your skull near the vestibulocochlear nerve, the eighth cranial nerve, which helps you hear and maintain balance.
- Enters your face through an opening in a bone near the base of your ear.
- Branches out through an opening near your parotid gland, a major salivary gland.
What are the facial nerve branches?
The facial nerve has five branches that perform distinct motor functions:
- Frontal (temporal): Controls your forehead muscles.
- Zygomatic: Helps you close your eyes.
- Buccal: Allows you to move your nose, blink and raise your upper lip and corners of your mouth to make a smile.
- Marginal mandibular: Draws your lower lip down (like a frown) and travels through your middle ear to help you respond to loud noises.
- Cervical: Controls movement in your chin and lower corners of your mouth.
Conditions and Disorders
What conditions and disorders affect the facial nerves?
Several conditions can cause weakness or paralysis of the facial nerve, including:
- Accidents and facial fractures.
- Bell’s palsy (inflammation of the facial nerve).
- Cancer such as salivary gland cancer and meningioma (skull base tumor).
- Ear infections or ear tumors like acoustic neuromas and schwannomas.
- Facial surgery, including cosmetic procedures like facelifts.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease.
- Lyme disease (bacterial infection caused by tick bites).
- Nerve blocks for dental procedures and neuropathies.
- Ramsay Hunt syndrome (neurological disorder caused by infection from chickenpox or shingles virus).
What are the signs of facial nerve paralysis?
Symptoms of facial nerve paralysis vary depending on the cause. The symptoms may be temporary or permanent. You may experience:
- Unclear speech or slurred speech.
- Drooling, food falling out of your mouth, and problems eating and drinking.
- Drooping eyebrow on the affected side of your face.
- Facial twitches (tics).
- Inability to move facial muscles such as your forehead, eyebrow and corner of your mouth.
- Lopsided smile or facial appearance.
- Loss of smell or taste.
- Nasal blockages.
- Trouble closing your eyes or blinking.
- Amplified sounds from your ear on the affected side of your face.
When should I talk to a doctor about facial nerve problems?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Difficulty eating, drinking or speaking.
- Facial drooping or twitches (tics).
- Lopsided facial appearance.
- Loss of smell or taste.
- Problems blinking or completely closing your eye.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The facial nerve plays a key role in making facial expressions. It controls your facial muscles that help you smile, frown, scrunch up your nose and wrinkle your forehead. These nerves also help with movements you don’t think about, like blinking, and sensations like tasting. Health conditions, injuries and surgeries can affect the facial nerves. If you experience temporary or permanent facial nerve weakness or paralysis, talk to a healthcare provider about your treatment options.
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