In early August 2017, while I was blowing my nose, I started experiencing the first symptoms of a diagnosis most people know really little about. My goal with this post is to shed the light and educate on how to recognize and what to do when you suffer from the neurological condition known as Bell’s Palsy.
Bell’s Palsy is the acute paralysis of several muscles of one side of the face that are innervated by the facial nerve, one of the twelve cranial nerves. The origin of this condition are believed to be viral in origin(herpes simplex and zoster, flu, mononucleosis, german measles…) . Some studies show one is at higher risk of contracting Bell’s Palsy if they are diabetic, pregnant, or having recently experiencing an upper respiratory tract infection.
40 years of age is the prime decade to contract the disease.
This infection leads to a swelling of the cranial nerve. The problem is that the cranial nerve emerge from the stylomastoid foramen on your skull, a tiny orifice just below the ear canal. The pressure put on the nerve by this swelling creates inflammation and leads to that facial paralysis resulting in the inability to close the eye, frown, smile, seal your lips, pucker, whistle or perform any fine motor action with the side of the face affected. Other symptoms includes drooling, decrease sensation on one half of the tongue with decreased ability to taste on that side, numbness on your face/cheek, jaw pain and headaches.
The most urgent symptom that needs to be address ASAP is the inability to close the eye, which will create dryness, excessive tearing and potential damage to your cornea which can results in serious eye and eye sight damages.
In my case, i was blowing my nose when I felt my right jaw locked for about 15sec, with sharp pain due to jaw muscles spasm. These was my first symptoms. The pain quickly went away but my right face felt weird for the rest of that day. It’s not until the next morning that I felt something was very wrong when I looked at myself in mirror and was unable to frown( no wrinkles on forehead), unable to fully close my eye, to whistle and drink without spilling water since my lips would not seal.
If I had not known anything about Bell’s palsy, i could have thought I might have a stroke. One of the key signs for a stroke, or CVA, would have been sudden weakness in limbs on one side of the body. Thankfully, this was not the case.
Bell's palsy is also common in people who contracts Lyme disease and it should be ruled out.
After recognizing these symptoms and becoming pretty confident it was Bell’s palsy, i scheduled a visit with my primary care for the next day and was able to be evaluated and diagnosed officially. This short turn around between first symptoms and medical attention is key since Bell’s palsy involves a nerve injury, for which you never want to wait or postpone care in order to expect prompt recovery. 72 hours is somewhat of a cutoff for faster recovery vs lingering and possible neural damage.
I was prescribed steroids and an antiviral drug which helped reduced my symptoms by 50% in 24 hours.
I also started stimulating my facial nerve with an electrical stimulator( as seen in video below) and performed three times daily active facial muscle contraction exercises to regain motor control.
I documented my symptoms and recovery in the videos below before giving my thoughts on what made me fully recover in 7-10 days.
The average length of symptoms are 2-4 weeks. In the most severe cases, symptoms can linger for up to 6 months.
So if you ever suffer from Bell’s Palsy, remember to act fast in getting the right medical treatment and see a physical therapist that will assist you in regaining control of your face.
Pierre-Yves Butheau, MPT, CMP has been a physiotherapist for 19 years and has a passion for helping people move better, return from and prevent injuries, as well as improve their function and quality of life. He has a strong interest in addressing the root cause of and treating neuro-musculoskeletal conditions while educating his patients with the knowledge to manage their conditions and prevent recurrence. Pierre also has a niche in treating Bell's palsy and temporomandibular joint dysfunctions.