Bell’s Palsy is a little-known condition with symptoms similar to that of a stroke. It’s difficult to spot and highly distressing when you do, as Swati Basu Das found out.
There are times when we fall victim to a sudden onset of disease that we are not aware of until it disables our precious facial expressions.
Here is a typical case in point:
Sipping his favourite hot chocolate, my eight-year-old son Ryan uncontrollably spilt it through the left corner of his lip.
He cluttered it all, and continued while explaining his discomfort. That was the moment when my husband and I observed his impish smile was slightly distorted, and his speech slurred. His uneasiness was noticeable.
The next morning his condition further deteriorated. His facial muscles were entirely out of his control, and the left side of his face had drooped. Ryan’s symptoms even included eye twitches and twinges in the lip. He couldn’t even shut his eye even while sleeping
“Is this a cerebral stroke or a tumour?” I thought.
Many such random apprehensions made things worse for all, including Ryan.
My husband and I couldn’t handle the anxiety until we had seen the blood reports and MRI tests, as directed by his paediatrician.
Both confirmed that Ryan was not a victim of ischemic stroke. He was released after a few checkups.
As recommended, we took him to a neurologist, who was candid.
Dr. Shaji Abraham at Badr Al Sama Polyclinic in Muscat, explained it to us.
“Have you heard of Bell’s Palsy? If not, then this is it. No, it’s not a stroke. There is no need to panic. It is just that you and your child have to have patient. All you need to do is to be aware and let time heal it with regular facial massages and good care.”
Anti-inflammatory medicines for seven days and a regular facial massage proved helpful. After six months, Ryan now smiles perfectly.
So what exactly is Bell’s Palsy?
With a sudden numbness or paralysis of the facial muscles and nerves, Bell’s Palsy attacks one side of the face, making it droop. The eye of the affected part remains open even while you are sleeping.
A crooked face and slurred speech might look similar to the symptoms manifested by a brain stroke. But it might not be the case.
Dr. Shaji Abraham has since told us: “The facial nerves, which are responsible for carrying the messages for the brain to function, swell and are compressed. This results in temporary paralysis of the muscles, and that is what we commonly term as Bell’s Palsy.
“As the nerves become compressed, signals from the brain fail to reach the facial muscle and movements are restricted. There can be some difficulty in closing the eyelids, a sensitivity to noise, smiling and frowning gets disabled, and there may be difficulty swallowing and even taste can be impaired.”
Mostly connected with viral infections such as cold sores, flu, ear infection and even the immune system responding to such contamination, Bell’s Palsy can attack anyone at any age.
“A sudden climate change, prolonged exposure to direct air conditioning or travel to regions of extreme cold can trigger Bell’s Palsy. Sometimes the herpes virus inflames the facial nerves resulting in Bell’s Palsy,” says Dr. Shaji Abraham.
It is thus essential to know the symptoms and be patient with the healing process, which recovers with time.
1. Weepy eyes and blurred vision
3. Facial numbness
4. Twitching in the eye
5. Difficulty in making facial expressions
6. The side of the face affected droops
7. Sensitivity to noise
Time is the best healer
With the medical jargons hovering around, there may be a question like “How long the facial paralysis will last?”
As the psychological effects of Bell’s Palsy sets in, all a patient can think of is facing the future with a deformed face. But that’s definitely not the case.
Dr Shaji says: “Though it comes without any prior signals, it is healed to up to 90 percent within a span of either one, three or six months or till the facial muscle gains its strength. Regular facial massage and good physiotherapy sessions require patience.”
All facial paralysis is not a stroke
Symptoms might be similar to a stroke. Unlike Bell’s Palsy, stroke victims usually have weaknesses not only in the face but in their arms and legs as well. Unlike a brain stroke, Bell’s Palsy is a temporary paralysis of the muscle on one side of the face. It lasts as long as the virus and infection are active. The moment the swelling of the nerve goes down, the nerve starts renewing itself.
Helping Kids cope with Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s Palsy leads to a dry eye condition. As the eye on the affected part of the face remains open, it is crucial to secure it with an eye patch while sleeping. Eye drops help to lubricate the eye and prevent further damage.
Dr Shaji says: “Avoid any outdoor activities, direct contact to pollution and cold breeze. Facial exercises and light massage help the nerves respond with time. Maintain a healthy diet and avoid chilled items from the fridge.”
Editor’s Note: “This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please seek the advice of a medical expert if you have any questions regarding a health issue.”