Facial nerve palsy, also known as Bell's palsy, causes a weakness in the facial muscles resulting in half of the face drooping, a one-sided smile, and the eye on that side becoming difficult to close. This condition usually happens suddenly and without warning. Facial nerve palsy can occur at any age.
For most people, this palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, facial nerve palsy can recur.
The exact cause is unknown but the resulting palsy is believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face. Most cases are probably caused by a virus.
To treat facial nerve palsy, you may be given steroid medications to reduce swelling of the affected nerve. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. Your open eye may be covered to prevent it from drying out. You also may need to use eye drops and ointments for a time. Your otolaryngologist will discuss follow-up care with you, including the possible need for further treatment to help your facial muscles return to normal.
Facial nerve palsy rarely requires emergency treatment. However, there are conditions, such as stroke, that may look like facial nerve palsy and are medical emergencies. Therefore, you should seek emergent medical care if you notice facial weakness or drooping. Although the palsy can be alarming, it is rarely serious. Many people begin to improve in a few weeks, even without treatment.
You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have facial nerve (Bell’s) palsy and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced otolaryngologist are important to the successful outcome for patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital provides a multidisciplinary approach to patient care by collaborating with colleagues who have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders and conditions. In addition, patients have full access to BWH's world-renowned academic medical community, with its diverse specialists, and state-of-the-art facilities.