What to Do When Bell’s Palsy Strikes

It can be quite frightening to wake up one morning, feeling perfectly normal, but then glance in the mirror to discover that your face is drooping on one side. This is the typical experience for most people who develop Bell’s palsy, a rare condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of facial muscles.

Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls facial muscles on one side of your face becomes inflamed, swollen or compressed. The damaged facial nerve then fails to work properly, affecting the muscles that control blinking, eyelid closing and facial expressions such as smiling and frowning. 

The nerve also plays a role in the muscles of your middle ear, as well as function of your saliva glands, tear glands and sense of taste.  

Experts aren’t certain what causes Bell’s palsy, but they have found it occurs more often in people who are pregnant, have severe preeclampsia, are obese, have high blood pressure, are diabetic or have an upper respiratory illness, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO).

Bell’s palsy can occur at any age, but is more likely to strike between the ages of 15 and 45, affecting men and women equally.

While alarming, Bell’s palsy usually isn’t permanent and resolves itself in two weeks to six months, depending on the severity of nerve damage.

Studies show complete restoration of facial function within six months in 70 percent of patients who have complete paralysis and in as high as 94 percent of patients with partial paralysis, says the AAO.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Bell’s palsy may include:


  • Facial drooping or paralysis
  • Drooling or hard time swallowing
  • Incomplete eyelid closure, which may lead to dry eyes
  • Facial numbness
  • Pain around the ears
  • Loss of the sense of taste
  • Sense of facial heaviness
  • Altered speech


Other symptoms may include headache, dizziness, and difficulty eating or drinking.

Share symptoms as soon as possible with your doctor to speed diagnosis and treatment. You may undergo testing to rule out other disorders or disease and to determine risk factors, such as diabetes and certain infections. 

You might also undergo a diagnostic test called EMG (electromyography) to determine the presence, severity and extent of facial nerve damage. 

Bell’s Palsy Treatment

The standard approach to treating Bell’s palsy is oral steroids to reduce inflammation. This treatment works best if begun within a few days of symptoms starting. In some cases, antiviral drugs may also be used to fight specific suspected viruses. 

Experimental treatments may include electronic nerve stimulation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and acupuncture. On rare occasions, cosmetic or reconstructive surgery may be needed. 

Talk with your doctor about risks and potential side effects with any treatment. 

Tips for Managing Bell’s Palsy


  • Follow up with your doctor if symptoms don’t improve within three months or if they get worse.
  • Monitor your mental health. Some people withdraw socially because of the way their face looks. Seek counseling or support if you feel overwhelmed by facial changes.
  • Protect your eye. Work with your provider for recommendations on wearing an eye patch and keeping your eye moist. A paralyzed eyelid that won’t close over your eye can dry it out and cause injury and potential vision loss. 


Prompt treatment of Bell’s palsy can help speed up your recovery time and prevent complications.

If you’re concerned you may be experiencing Bell’s palsy, talk with your doctor. Or, make an appointment with a physician at Premier ENT Associates to be examined by a board certified ear, nose and throat specialist.