What is Bell’s palsy?

Bell’s palsy causes temporary paralysis, or palsy, of facial muscles. It occurs when something (perhaps a viral infections) causes inflammation and swelling of the seventh cranial nerve (the facial nerve that controls facial muscles).

With Bell’s palsy, your face droops on one side, or rarely both sides. You may have a lopsided smile or an eyelid that won’t close. These effects typically last several months and go away without treatment. The condition gets its name from Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon who first described it during the 19th century.

How common is Bell’s palsy?

About 40,000 Americans develop Bell’s palsy every year.

Who might have Bell’s palsy?

Bell’s palsy affects men and women equally. It typically occurs in people between the ages of 15 and 60. You may be more prone to Bell’s palsy if you are pregnant or have:

Can you get Bell’s palsy more than once?

It’s unusual to get Bell’s palsy more than once in a lifetime, but it can happen. A recurrence is most likely within two years of the first incident. The facial nerve palsy may affect the same side of your face or the opposite side. You’re more at risk for a recurrence if you have a family history of the disease.

What causes Bell’s palsy?

Various viruses may trigger Bell’s palsy. The condition occurs when swelling or inflammation temporarily puts pressure on the nerve that controls facial muscles. This pressure impairs the function of the nerve making it difficult for you to control facial muscles or expressions. As the inflammation subsides, the nerve starts to function again. It may take several months for symptoms to go away.

What are the symptoms of Bell’s palsy?

Symptoms of Bell’s palsy tend to come on suddenly and reach peak severity within 48 to 72 hours. Some people develop mild symptoms. Others experience total paralysis.

Symptoms start to gradually improve in three weeks. Up to 80% of people fully recover and show no signs of Bell’s palsy within three months.

In addition to facial drooping, signs of Bell’s palsy include:

  • Difficulty speaking, eating or drinking.
  • Drooling.
  • Dry eyes.
  • Facial or ear pain.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of taste.
  • Ringing in ears (tinnitus).
  • Sensitivity to sounds.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/29/2020.


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