Bell’s palsy is a form of paralysis affecting the facial muscles. It causes temporary weakness, especially when the nerves controlling the facial muscles are swollen, inflamed or compressed. When you have Bell’s palsy, one side of your face will become stiff, or droop. In fact, you might even struggle to close your eye on the side that’s affected. Most people who have Bell’s palsy have a difficult time smiling. On the bright side, however, Bell’s palsy is not a permanent thing. It’s a temporary condition and should pass easily within a few weeks.
Bell’s palsy can happen to anyone at any age. However, after years of research, scientists discovered that it is prevalent in people who are between the ages of 16 and 60 (which basically covers a majority of the global population). There is no specific risk associated with Bell’s palsy that can be linked to ethnicity or genetics. However, if your Bell’s palsy episodes keep recurring, you need to visit a doctor, because there might be a chance of a genetic predisposition to Bell’s palsy.
In the US, it is estimated that one in every 5,000 people have Bell’s palsy, and in the course of your lifetime, one in every 70 people might have Bell’s palsy at some point in time. The available natural treatments for Bell’s palsy usually emphasize on stress relief, triggering a response in the nerve tissue that is damaged so that it can self-heal, and fighting whichever active virus that might be causing Bell’s palsy.
The virus that could be responsible for Bell’s palsy might be contagious, but Bell’s palsy is not contagious. However, it is usually advisable to consider boosting your immune system in case someone has been diagnosed with Bell’s palsy in your home so that you can protect yourself from the risk of getting infected by that virus.
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
More often the symptoms will manifest soon after you have recovered from an eye or ear infection, or after a cold. You will notice the symptoms after one or two weeks. They are abrupt, and in most cases, you will notice the symptoms in the morning as soon as you wake up, or when you are about to drink or eat something.
Most of the symptoms of Bell’s palsy are not different from symptoms of a stroke. Therefore, if you notice them, it is usually a good idea to see a doctor, so that they can rule out the prospect of something life-threatening.
Characteristically, you will have a droopy appearance on the side of your face that is affected. There are rare instances, however, where Bell’s palsy has affected the individuals on both sides of the face. The following are some of the common symptoms that are associated with Bell’s palsy:
- Drooling, at times coupled with changes in the amount of saliva
- Facial drooping at the mouth corners
- Pain behind the ear
- Painful jaws
- Heightened sensitivity to sound
- Inability to close your eyelids
- Unable to taste food properly
Dental Problems Associated with Bell’s Palsy
When you have Bell’s palsy, in some cases your lips might become weak. As a result, it becomes difficult for you to seal your lips properly around cutlery or cups, and you will end up leaking food or drinks whenever you try to consume either. Most people who notice these symptoms will become reluctant to eating outside especially in the company of others because of the mess that it causes.
Bell’s palsy also affects the cheek muscles. Because of this reason, when eating you might have food collecting in the weaker side of your mouth. The role of the cheek muscle is to keep food in the middle of the mouth so it can be chewed properly. Other than that, having weakened cheek muscles might also result in pain when you are chewing food or when you try to swallow.
You might also struggle in the morning when brushing your teeth. People with Bell’s palsy might have a difficult time spitting out the water when brushing their teeth in the morning, also as a result of the weak muscles.
How to Do It
There are special cups available in the market that can help you drink fluids without having to tip your head back. Therapists usually recommend these cups for patients. These cups have the nose cut out, making it easy for you to sip from them without having to tip your head back.
If you are having a torrid time chewing, the following tips might help you make your life more comfortable:
- Try and avoid eating hard food. Chewing is already difficult as it is. Instead, opt for soft food that you can chew easily. In your diet, you can include things like vegetables, well-cooked meat, fish, and pasta.
- If you have been struggling with messy mealtimes, consider eating smaller mouthfuls instead. It is easier to control these, and there is a lower likelihood that you will spill.
- For patients who might experience dryness in the mouth, take your meals with sauces, gravy or extra butter
How to Handle Drooling
One of the common symptoms of Bell’s palsy is drooling. This happens when the facial muscles are too weak to the point where your lips can no longer seal your mouth comfortably. It gets particularly worse when you lean your head forward because gravity will make saliva flow to the teeth and lick out from the weaker side of your lips.
The following are some simple exercises that you can incorporate in your routine to help you carry yourself better even when struggling with drooling:
- Try and avoid dropping your head forward, or lowering your head
- Engage in some lip strengthening exercises. These usually improve lip closure. You can ask your doctor to recommend an expert in facial palsy
- Try and swallow more often. This is to help you prevent a buildup of saliva in your mouth
- Sip water often. This will help you create a habit where you swallow more frequently, and once it becomes a routine, you will barely have a problem
- For people who have lip weakness or severe weakness in the cheek muscles, taping the cheek might offer comfort and support, and in the process help you reduce the amount of drool.
Causes and Risk Factors of Bell’s Palsy
So far, doctors are yet to determine the real cause of Bell’s palsy. However, most scientists believe that the symptoms that manifest when you have Bell’s palsy can be linked to some of these viral infections that you may or may not be receiving treatment for already:
- Influenza B
- Respiratory diseases
- Herpes zoster
- Herpes simplex
There are certain conditions that might make you vulnerable to Bell’s palsy. When you are going through them, you should try and carry out the exercises that help with Bell’s palsy relief as often as possible. These conditions include:
- Pregnancy (third trimester)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Respiratory diseases like a cold or the flu
- Myasthenia gravis
- High blood pressure
Treatment for Bell’s Palsy
More often you will be asked a number of questions when you have Bell’s palsy so that the doctor can try and come up with a definitive diagnosis, and more importantly, to understand which of the risk factors or your predisposed condition might be behind your Bell’s palsy. Be open with the doctor about whichever medicine you are currently taking and any illnesses that you might be getting treatment for.
If you have recently traveled outside the country, you should also tell the doctor when, where you went, and for how long. You should also tell the doctor if there is someone in your family who might have been diagnosed with the same condition.
In order to determine whether you endured nerve damage, you will be subject to EMG, CT or MRI scans, also to rule out the prospect of paralysis. After the diagnosis, once the doctor can affirmatively confirm Bell’s palsy, you might be advised to take antiviral drugs, corticosteroids, or they might recommend physical therapy.
There was a time when decompression surgery was recommended for Bell’s palsy. However, since this had a risk of permanent loss of hearing and a host of other dire side effects, it is barely ever done anymore. In the unlikely event that your symptoms are long-lasting, doctors can recommend plastic surgery especially if your facial nerves have been damaged.
Unfortunately, there are people whose symptoms are so bad, they might affect vision permanently. This is particularly in case the paralysis or weakness affected your ability to blink. This is usually associated with damage to the retina, or abrasion of the cornea. In such scenarios, the doctor can recommend an eye patch, protective eyewear, and even artificial tears or specific lubricating ointments to protect your eyes. When using any of these products, you should always follow instructions. Make sure you report to the doctor as soon as or immediately you notice redness or discharge in your eyes, pain or soreness.
You can get full recovery from Bell’s palsy even without treatment. In most cases, you need to identify the symptoms early enough, if you are to have a better chance of recovery. Full recovery is, however, achievable if you get treated with medication, or whichever remedy your doctor might recommend. In the unlikely event that you cannot close your eyelids, you will need to protect your eyes.
The following are some of the main treatment alternatives you have if your symptoms are confirmed to be Bell’s palsy.
Steroids. Your doctor will recommend some steroids, which you should take for a period of around 10 days. The most commonly administered steroid is Prednisolone. How do steroids help? Basically, they reduce inflammation. This is simply how steroids work. It is highly unlikely that you might experience any side effects from the use of steroids, especially since you will be using them only for a few days. However, if you take steroids for a very long time (which is not the case with Bell’s palsy), there is always a risk of dire side effects.
According to studies in Bell’s palsy over the years, those who are affected and do not take steroids, you have a 75% chance of getting back full nerve function in the affected areas. However, if you use prescribed steroids, your chances shoot up to 85%. Therefore, even with the improvement in your recovery chances, steroids still do not guarantee you 100% recovery from Bell’s palsy. It only gives you a better chance at speedy recovery than going without treatment. It is advisable that you start treatment with steroids as soon as possible, in fact no less than 72 hours after you notice the first symptoms. If you take more than 72 hours before you start taking steroids, the effect might not be effective.
Antiviral Medication. Most of the cases of Bell’s palsy are as a result of a viral infection. Therefore, it is safe to consider antiviral medicine to deal with this. Most of the medication will stop the virus from multiplying, especially the cold sore and chicken pox virus.
Another option that doctors usually advise some patients, is a dose of steroids and antiviral medication. This combination can be more effective than using either of the two in isolation. There are several factors that might be responsible for this, including the patient’s genetic makeup. Therefore, results might vary from one person to the other, and in some cases, some patients have even reported insignificant results.
Protection for the Eyes. If your case of Bell’s palsy affects your eyes, you might be at risk of damage to the eyes, especially in a situation where you cannot fully close your eyelids. Other challenges that you might have include tear glands not producing tears in normal quantities. As a result, your eyes will be dry. Dryness in your eyes can also cause severe damage to the eyes, even blindness. Therefore, you need to start treatment as soon as possible so that you can keep your eyes moist. Taking these into consideration, the following are some alternatives that your doctor might recommend:
- Goggles or an eye pad to protect your eyes
- Using eye drops during the day to keep your eyes lubricated
- Using eye ointments to keep the eyes lubricated at night
There is also the option of taping the lower and upped lids together when you go to sleep. Your doctor might also recommend other procedure that they feel can help you keep your eyes closed until the eyelids have recovered.
What happens if you do not recover from facial weakness?
There is a very small population of people who do not recover from the facial weakness. In fact, it might persist to the point where it becomes unsightly. In such cases, the following options are available:
- The doctor can recommend surgery to improve the cosmetic appearance
- Get an injection of Botox if you develop muscle spasms on the face
- Facial retraining, a physiotherapy technique that targets the facial muscles
Natural Remedies for Bell’s Palsy
Given that Bell’s palsy can be linked to a variety of causes, it also follows that there are different natural remedies that are often recommended for those particular conditions, which can also work to relieve you of the symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Here are some of the natural treatments that you can consider:
Massage. When you visit your physical therapist, they might recommend some massage techniques that you can perform at home. More often, Bell’s palsy patients can ease the discomfort and symptoms through gentle facial massage. Where possible, you can also ask the doctor to recommend a licensed therapist who has experience in Bell’s palsy treatment. Schedule an appointment not just for your face, but for a full-body massage. This is because you need to enjoy the utmost benefits, including anxiety relief, reduced inflammation, reduced stress, and boosting your immune system.
Proper Eye Care. If Bell’s palsy affects your eyes to the point where they cannot close, the doctor will recommend some protective gear. Use them as prescribed. During the day, you can put on the protective glasses but use an eye patch in the evening. To reduce the risk of long-term damage to the eyes, you can also consider using hydrating eye drops.
Acupuncture. The concept of acupuncture usually lies in stimulating the muscles, nerves and inducing relief to the patients. In fact, those Bell’s palsy patients who go for acupuncture usually feel better after at least two treatment sessions. While acupuncture has and will work for a lot of people, the secret is to find a practitioner who is an expert in Bell’s palsy. If you can start your sessions as early as possible, you will be better placed to recover from Bell’s palsy.
Moist Heat. Get a warm cloth and cover the part of your face that is uncomfortable with it. This might help you relieve the pain. If you want to sleep peacefully and relieve the tension, you can even add some essential oils into the warm water before you dip the cloth in it. Some of the best options you can consider include chamomile, rose, and lavender. Whenever you want to relax, or immediately the pain starts, apply the warm compress.
Vitamin B. There are different types of Vitamin B that will help you get relief for Bell’s palsy. Vitamin B12 usually helps the body in reducing inflammation and nerve growth. In fact, it is more effective than most of the steroids that might be prescribed by your doctors, at least based on a study carried out in 1995. In that study, patients who received steroids experienced complete recovery after close to 10 weeks. On the other hand, those who received Vitamin B12 were fully recovered in around 2 weeks.
You can include foods rich in Vitamin B12 in your diets such as beef liver, grass-fed beef, cottage cheese, eggs, wild-caught fish, and sardines. Other than that, you can also talk to your doctor about high-quality Vitamin B12 supplements. You can also ask the doctor about injections to the affected area.
Vitamin B6 is another alternative that you should strongly consider. Vitamin B6 naturally helps your body by supporting the nervous system and proper eye health. If you carefully study most of the Bell’s palsy treatment plans, you will notice that there are several Vitamin B6 ingredients recommended.
Take note that Vitamin B6 is water soluble, and for this reason, doctors barely recommend supplements. In fact, you are better off eating foods that are rich in Vitamin B6 like blackstrap molasses, grass-fed beef, turkey breast, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and chickpeas.
Elderberry. This is one antiviral herb that will yield impressive benefits in your bid to fight Bell’s palsy. It has been effective in providing relief for a number of the conditions that are linked to Bell’s palsy, including sinus infections, the flu, common cold and some respiratory infections. Most of the elderberry products are available as pills, lozenges, ointments, syrups, and teas.
While elderberry is a safe product, you should never take it if you are using any laxatives, diuretics, immune suppressants, diabetes medicine or if you are currently going through chemotherapy.
Echinacea. Echinacea is one of the best antiviral herbs you can come across. It is highly effective in boosting your immune system, which will help you fight viral infections better and reducing inflammation. For the viral infections that might be responsible for Bell’s palsy, Echinacea provides faster relief. To get the best results, you should look for high-quality liquid Echinacea supplements, because they will be absorbed into the body much faster.
According to the relevant authorities, you only need 10 milligrams per kilo of body weight for a period of 10 days to boost your immune system. There are online calculators that are useful and will help you determine the ideal dose.
Exercises. Visit a therapist who has experience in Bell’s palsy. Your doctor can recommend one. The therapist can put you through some exercises that are specific to Bell’s palsy relief. These exercises usually aim to improve the brain-nerve functions. Some of these include opening the mouth wide, wrinkling your nose, frowning, a wide smile, blinking, winking, and raising your eyebrows to help you heal faster. For the best results, you should perform these exercises many times during the day.
Zinc. Zinc is a cellular component available in all body cells. It is one of the most important trace minerals in the body and must feature in each treatment plan for Bell’s palsy. Zinc has been used for so many years to heal wounds, support proper function of the thyroid glands, and to boost the immune system. It is also important in fending off viruses, respiratory illnesses and to treat colds. You will heal faster from whichever condition or virus that might be responsible for your case of Bell’s palsy when you add zinc-rich food in your diet, like chickpeas, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and lamb.
Castor Oil Compress. Castor oil compress, like Echinacea, has been used for many years to help prevent the growth of fungi, viruses, and bacteria, improve proper circulation in the body, and to boost lymphatic function. Castor oil compress works by enhancing the flow of blood to the parts of the face that are affected by Bell’s palsy.
Warm one teaspoon of castor oil and deeply massage it into your face. After the massage, take a warm cloth and cover your face with it for around 30 minutes. You should do this two times daily until your symptoms subside.
Biofeedback. Over the years, biofeedback has been used to help provide relief for a lot of conditions and ailments like chronic pain, insomnia, stress, and muscle tension. There is proof that biofeedback can also provide Bell’s palsy relief because it encourages improved motor function for your facial muscles, which makes it easier for your face to feel normal again.
Meditation. For pain relief, and to ease chronic pain and muscle tension associated with Bell’s palsy, you can consult a meditation expert for guided meditation sessions, deep breathing exercises, regular exercise and yoga. There are studies that have linked stress to worsening the symptoms of Bell’s palsy, while chronic stress might actually make your Bell’s palsy relapse. Therefore, relaxation and meditation can help you feel better.
Bell’s Palsy Diet
When you have Bell’s palsy, you can consult your doctor or nutritionist on the recommended diet changes that you can consider. Normally, experts recommend Vitamin B-rich foods. This is because Vitamin B supports nervous activity at a cellular level and controls the level of homocysteine.
An excess of homocysteine in the body is often linked to conditions like osteoporosis, stroke, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. The following are some recommended Vitamin B foods that you should include in your diet:
- Wild salmon
- Pasture raised chicken
- Kidney beans
- Pinto beans
- Turnip Greens
- Greenland shrimp
- Norwegian shrimp
- Pasture-raised eggs
There are specific foods that you can include in the diet to help you heal your cranial nerve. This is because Bell’s palsy happens as a result of inflammation of the fallopian canal. Therefore, it is a good idea to eat anti-inflammatory foods that will help you heal. The following are some simple food you should include in your diet:
Turmeric. Turmeric is one of the best spices you can have in your diet. Its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties yield a lot of health benefits for you, other than just helping you with Bell’s palsy. A dash of turmeric on some of the foods you love will help. Alternatively, you can also prepare a turmeric drink.
Chili Pepper. Garlic is another natural healer. The spicy flavor and health benefits you derive from garlic are as a result of the capsaicin compound. Capsaicin helps the body get rid of substance P, a chemical in your nerve cells which sends pain signals to your brain.
Garlic. Garlic is a common inclusion in most healthy diets. It contains compounds which reduce inflammation, hence the pain that is caused by Bell’s palsy. You should crush three or four cloves and eat them two times daily until your situation improves.
Omega-3 Fats. Omega-3 fats are important in nerve and brain function. 60% of the brain is made up of fat. Around 20% of the cerebral cortex is made up of a unique type of omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid. If you have low omega-3 levels in the body, your nerve cells tend to become stiffer, and the fats that are missing will automatically be replaced with omega-6 and cholesterol. This affects neurotransmission between your cells and can increase your risk of several neurological problems like memory loss.
Food to Avoid
When you have Bell’s palsy, there are some foods that you should stay away from. Primarily, avoid food that has arginine. Viruses need arginine to keep multiplying. Cutting this from your diet should help you slow down the progress of Bell’s palsy. Some foods that contain arginine include sesame seeds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.
Other foods that you should avoid include:
- Foods that cause allergies like corn, wheat, nuts, eggs, and soya
- Avoid smoking, alcohol, and coffee
- Stay away from refined food
- Stop taking food that has artificial colors and preservatives
Most of the time, Bell’s palsy and the symptoms associated with it are mild, and you should have relief in under two months. However, there are some cases where serious complications might arise. There are patients who have suffered total paralysis in the affected part of the face, which leads to irreversible damage.
In some instances, some patients suffer involuntary muscle contraction on the face for a long time, and this never resolves. It is also possible to suffer partial blindness on the affected side of the face or total blindness.
Bell’s palsy might cause damage to your seventh cranial nerve, the nerve responsible for the action of all facial muscles. Your eyes might become too dry, which can cause ulcers, a number of eye infections, and might make you blind.
Some of Bell’s palsy patients suffer Synkinesis, a condition where one body part involuntarily moves in response to movement in another. In this case, your eyes might close every time you smile.
Other than Bell’s palsy, paralysis or facial weakness is also associated with ear infections, stroke, brain tumors, some genetic disorders, Lyme disease and physical trauma. These are serious conditions, and in order to rule out the risk of any of these, you need to visit a doctor as soon as possible to get treatment.
Recovery from Bell’s palsy often depends on how severe the nerve damage is. Most people improve in a few weeks, but within 6 months Bell’s palsy should have cleared if you get proper treatment. In case your episode of Bell’s palsy is severe, the recovery period might be longer. Cases of Bell’s palsy recurring are rare, and in most cases, the effect can be permanent. Prompt treatment is often recommended as soon as you notice the symptoms, so get in touch with your doctor as soon as you can.