Bell’s palsy wipes away your smile |

Bell’s palsy wipes away your smile

Dr. Drew Werner

EAGLE COUNTY – The enjoyment of a great meal. A long drink of cool water to quench your thirst. The warmth of a smile to brighten your day.There is nothing that makes us appreciate something more than when we lose it. This week, I have talked to several patients who have expressed just that feeling. Each has lost something that the rest of us take so much for granted we probably don’t even think about it. I would like to talk about Bell’s palsy – a condition that causes one to lose their smile.Bell’s palsy is a condition first described by Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon who studied facial anatomy and first identified the affected nerve over 200 years ago. Bell’s palsy is the paralysis of the seventh cranial nerve, which allows movement of the muscles used for facial expression. That includes blinking, frowning and smiling. When injured, taste may become impaired, and drooling and tearing are common. The entire side of the face is affected and hearing may even be increased on the side of face with the condition. The most obvious result of Bell’s palsy is a complete paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face. The mouth droops, and smiling, frowning and even whistling become impossible.Bell’s palsy is believed to be due to inflammation caused by a virus in the fallopian canal where the facial nerve exits the brain through a very small boney opening. The inflammation causes swelling and compression of the nerve. Much like having your leg or arm fall asleep, the nerve stops working as does the muscles it controls. One of the major medical problems associated Bell’s palsy is drying of the affected eye because it my be impossible to blink completely or even close the eye during sleep. Using moisturizing eye drops and taping the eye closed at night are important.Rarely, other conditions such as bacterial infections and tumors can cause symptoms similar to Bell’s palsy. A medical exam to make sure no other causes are suspected is important. If another condition is evident, further testing is in order including blood tests and an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). If the diagnosis of Bell’s palsy is confirmed, treatment often consists of steroids, although their benefit is variable. Bell’s palsy is not uncommon and may last for weeks. Suffering from it leads to a lot of questions, which I hope will be addressed in the facts below:– Bell’s palsy affects 0.02 percent of the population, or nearly one in every 5,000 people. This means 40,000 Americans are affected each year.– Men and women are affected equally, although some medical conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes and respiratory infections, increase the risk.– About 7 percent of people with Bell’s palsy will have a recurrence within 10 years.– 75 percent of people with Bell’s palsy will recover in two to three weeks.– 80 percent of people with Bell’s palsy will recover within four months.– Of those not recovered at four months, 10 percent will develop significant recovery but may still have some facial weakness and asymmetry.– The remaining 10 percent of hose with Bell’s palsy will have permanent weakness and facial weakness.It is amazing all the little things that we can so easily take for granted. I am reminded frequently of all I have, and I hope you can reflect on that, too. The next time you see someone smile, I hope you can smile back and be happy for all the little things. Have a great week! Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a weekly column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.Vail, Colorado

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