Indiscriminate Bell’s palsy strikes suddenly, unexpectedly
Bell’s palsy is an indiscriminate disease.
It afflicts about 40,000 Americans each year. It affects men and women equally. It can occur at any age, but is less common before age 15 or after age 60, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).
It is more likely to attack people who have diabetes or upper respiratory ailments such as the flu or a cold.
Some famous people who have suffered from Bells palsy include:
- Angelina Jolie, who told Vanity Fair magazine she suffered from the disorder in 2016 and that she had acupuncture to help her recover fully.
- Jolie said she’d been diagnosed with hypertension, which has been linked to Bells Palsy.
- George Clooney said in a 2006 CNN interview that he was 14 when he suffered from Bell’s Palsy.
Milk had dribbled out of his mouth at a church lunch. Clooney said he feared the worse.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God. I have Lou Gehrig’s disease.’ ”
Clooney said the affliction lasted about nine months.
“It was the first year of high school, which was a bad time for having half your face paralyzed,” Clooney said.
Pierce Brosnan told TV Guide he suffered from Bell’s palsy in the 1980s, catching a virus while shooting a shirtless scene in a river.
The former “James Bond” actor said he was put on prednisone and had to be shot from the left side to mask the disorder, which went away a few weeks later.
Halbor Julius Bjornsson (The Mountain from “Game of Thrones”) shared his diagnosis earlier this year on Instagram.
It didn’t stop him from winning the title of Europe’s Strongest Man, though he told fans he wouldn’t be able to smile for photos.
Joe Mantegna told the Los Angeles Times he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy in the 1980s while starring in the play “Speed the Plow.”
“My character (a high-powered movie producer) was on stage the whole time and that adds a lot of stress because you never get to catch your breath,” the “Criminal Minds” star said. “While I was doing the play, I came down with Bell’s Palsy, which is a stress-related illness, and I’m sure the play had something to do with my getting it.”
The facial nerve is one of the most complex in the body because it serves so many functions.
Damage to the nerve or disruption in its function can lead to many problems.
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy vary from person to person, and range in severity from mild weakness to total paralysis. The symptoms may include twitching, weakness or paralysis, the NINDS report said.
Other symptoms may include drooping of the eyelid and corner of the mouth, drooling, dryness of the eye or mouth, impairment of taste and excessive tearing in one eye.
Most often, the symptoms, which usually begin suddenly and reach their peak within 48 hours, lead to significant facial distortion.
Bell’s palsy also can cause pain or discomfort around the jaw and behind the ear, ringing in one or both ears, headache, lost of taste, hypersensitivity to sound on the affected side, impaired speech, dizziness and difficult eating or drinking, the NINDS report said.
Exactly what causes Bell’s palsy is unknown. It occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles is swollen, inflamed or compressed.
Most scientists believe that a viral infection, such as viral meningitis or the common cold sore virus, herpes simplex, causes the disorder, the NINDS report said.
They believe the nerve becomes inflamed in reaction to the infection, causing pressure within the Fallopian canal. This leads to ischemia (the restriction of blood and oxygen to the nerve cells).
In mild cases, there is damage only to the myelin sheath of the nerve.
The disorder also has been associated with influenza or a flu-like illness, headaches, chronic middle-ear infection, high blood pressure, diabetes, sarcoidosis, tumors, Lyme disease and trauma, such as skull fracture or facial injury, the NINDS report said.
Treatment of Bell’s palsy varies from one patient to the next.
Mild cases often don’t require treatment, and symptoms usually subside on their own within two weeks.
For others, treatment may include medications or other therapeutic options, the NINDS report said.
Recent studies have shown that steroids such as prednisone, which is used to reduce inflammation and swelling, are effective in treating Bell’s palsy, the NINDS report said.
Other drugs, such as acyclovir, which is used to fight viral herpes infections, also may have some benefit in shortening the course of the disease.
Analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help relieve pain.
Another important treatment is eye protection, the NINDS report said. Bell’s palsy can interrupt the eyelid’s natural blinking ability, leaving the eye exposed to irritation and drying.
It is vital to keep the eye moist and protect it from debris and injury, especially at night.
For most afflicted with Bell’s palsy, the prognosis is very good, the NINDS report said.
The extent of nerve damage determines the extent of recovery. Improvement is gradual and recovery times vary.
With or without treatment, most individuals begin to get better within two weeks and most recover completely, returning to normal function within three to six months.
For some, the symptoms may last longer. In a few cases, the symptoms may never completely disappear.
In rare cases, the disorder may recur, either on the same side or the opposite side of the face.
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