Diagnosing Bell's Palsy

Diagnosing Bell's Palsy
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What is Bell’sPalsy?

Bell’s palsy is a disorder caused by nerve and muscle damage in the face. Many people with Bell’s palsy lose the ability to move one side of their face, due to inflammation and damaged nerves. One key sign that Bell’s palsy may be present is the signature drooping under the eye on the side of the face that is paralyzed. While not all Bell’s palsy patients will experience this droop, it is one of the most obvious physical symptoms.

A patient experiencing Bell’s palsy may start to have eye dryness on the side of the face that is paralyzed. In addition, there may be issues with dry mouth or drooling, due to the loss of full control of mouth movements on the affected side of the face.

Bell’s palsy has many causes; anything from an accident to an infection can trigger this condition. It is vital to contact your doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing any kind of facial paralysis.

Diagnosis

Bell’s palsy, like many neurological disorders, is not one of the easiest conditions to diagnose, because it is considered a condition of exclusion. This means that your doctor will have to perform a variety of tests to rule out other serious causes of facial paralysis and pain.

During your appointment, your doctor will likely perform a neurological exam. You will be asked to do tasks such as smiling, raising your eyebrows and blinking. Inability to complete some of these tasks is a clear sign of paralysis. Your doctor may also ask many questions, including how long you have had the symptoms and if you have recently been in an accident.

When making a Bell’s palsy diagnosis, many doctors like to be certain there is not a more serious underlying condition present. Your doctor may want to perform blood tests to rule out conditions such as Lyme disease and syphilis. An MRI may also be requested to rule out a brain tumor. In some cases, a lumbar puncture will also be performed to check for additional infections. Do not be offended or afraid if your doctor asks to perform any of these tests on you. They are all standard procedures done to provide the most accurate diagnosis.

If all of those tests come back negative and the symptoms of facial paralysis continue, a diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy is usually given.

Treatment

If your doctor finds excessive inflammation in your facial nerves, you may be put an an anti-inflammatory medication. If your doctor believes that a viral infection contributed to your Bell’s palsy, you may also be given medication to attack the virus itself.

Some doctors send patients to physical therapy to help them learn to use facial muscles again. Luckily, for most Bell’s palsy patients, the condition is reversible and can be cured in as little as two weeks or as long as six months. In some rare cases, however, for reasons still unknown to the medical world, Bell’s palsy can be a chronic condition.

Resources

National Institutes of Health: Bell’sPalsy- https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/bells/detail_bells.htm#173933050

WebMD- Bell’s Palsy- https://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/bells-palsy-topic-overview

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