You may well feel quite worried if, all of a sudden, one side of your mouth starts to droop. This is one of the symptoms of a condition called Bell’s palsy, a condition that occurs when there is swelling and inflammation of the cranial nerves that are responsible for controlling facial function.
Bell’s palsy can affect anyone and is commonly found across all age ranges, genders, careers and ethnic groups, with 1 in every 500 people being at risk of developing the condition.
The symptoms of the condition tend to come on all of a sudden, but there are also some signs, such as an aching behind the ears, which may occur before the mouth starts to droop and the sufferer becomes unable to close their eye fully.
This may cause a stinging in that eye, as it is unable to close and moisten itself. Or, when eating, the sufferer may start to dribble out of one side of the mouth. Symptoms could potentially worsen to the extent that it becomes obvious to those around them, as they struggle to speak, smile or blink. Some may even have trouble moving their lips, closing their eyes and raising their eyebrows, while others may experience problems with speech, as well as being unable to whistle or drink through a straw. These symptoms are caused by the facial muscles in one side of the face not functioning normally, and some sufferers complain of feeling that one side of their face feels swollen, tight and numb. These feelings are due to a buildup of blood in that area, as the facial muscles fail to function as before. A stimulation of the sensory cells in that area of the face occurs which causes that feeling of numbness. However, no damage to the sensory receptors in the face takes place at all. Other symptoms that may be experienced include numbness on the same side of the tongue as the side of the face that is affected, and not being able to taste food.
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy tend to go away within 4–8 weeks, but around 10% of sufferers are at risk of the condition recurring. If the condition comes back, it may affect the opposite side of the face. Alternatively, it may affect a single area of the face, but will continue to do so for an extended period of time or even for the rest of that person’s life.
As of now, the actual causes of Bell’s palsy remain unknown, but the condition is believed to occur when there is an irregularity affecting the 7th pair of cranial nerves, which then leads to swelling and a subsequent lack of blood being transported to the facial muscles, thus causing paralysis. However, the condition’s symptoms differ from those of a stroke, whereby half of the body is affected and the sufferer is usually left with a permanent disability.
Bell’s palsy is not a serious condition in any shape or form, with almost 100% of cases being curable within the first two weeks, as long as the sufferer receives the appropriate treatment in time.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine Prince of Songkla University, 1987