Bell’s Palsy is a medical condition that affects facial muscles, resulting in temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the face. While the exact cause of Bell’s palsy is not fully understood, stress and a viral infection that swells the nerve that controls your facial muscles are highlighted as possible triggers.
Many people confuse the symptoms of Bell’s palsy with having a stroke. A stroke is caused by a blood clot that stops blood flow to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, while Bell’s palsy is linked to facial nerve damage.
Mayo Clinic reports that the exact cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown, but experts think it is mainly caused by swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face, possibly due to a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.
‘I thought it was a stroke’
After experiencing severe ear pain for about two weeks, Lusanda Sithole from Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal says she noticed that the pain led to Bell’s palsy when she was unable to open her mouth to eat. It refused to open on the left side and she couldn’t smile or blink her left eye.
“The first time I experienced Bell’s palsy, I thought it was a stroke because I didn’t know what was happening. I was laughed at, and I started questioning my beauty a lot. When I went to the doctor, they mentioned that it was triggered by stress and told me it was Bell’s palsy, not a stroke.
“I was in the hospital for a month and did physiotherapy for my face, and received a pamphlet to do some facial exercises at home. Though it is not too noticeable, my face has not fully recovered, and my left side still doesn’t seem to smile fully.”
Triggered by stress
Micaela Nkondo from Johannesburg, whose Bell’s palsy was also triggered by stress, encourages people to take care of their mental health because we may take for granted how much stress can cause harm to our bodies.
“I didn’t have it for long, so I did not undergo any treatment. I just got prescribed medication for stress and anxiety and felt self-conscious about how I looked when I experienced it. Afraid of it retriggering, I am trying to avoid stress and potentially having it for a longer period next time,” she says
‘You have to get treatment right away’
Ayanda Rathebe from Cape Town, whose Bell’s palsy was caused by a viral infection and affected the nerves on her face, recalls her first warning being a non-stop watery eye. Thereafter, she noticed that she was unable to gurgle the water while brushing her teeth, and the muscles inside her left cheek stopped working.
“I was very depressed when I experienced Bell’s palsy and did not want to be seen. My friends rallied around me, checked up on me, and visited, which helped. I was put on a 12-day course of prednisone, which is a steroid treatment, and it did the job.
“The left side of my face regained muscle function, but a little too much, while the right side has stayed the same. So my smile is a bit lopsided, but it’s not that noticeable, and when I’m stressed, sometimes my left side acts up, my eye twitches, or my jaw locks. I, however, made a full recovery in six weeks, and this is because I got on steroids immediately after my diagnosis; with Bell’s palsy, you have to get it treated right away,” she says.
What to look out for
According to the Cleveland Clinic, these are the most common symptoms of Bell’s palsy that can occur in both children and adults:
- Difficulty speaking, eating, or drinking
- Dry eyes
- Facial or ear pain
- Loss of taste
- Ringing in ears (tinnitus)
Meanwhile, they further state that although the majority of people who develop Bell’s palsy recover without treatment, a doctor may recommend one or more therapies for symptom relief and a faster recovery. This includes corticosteroids, antiviral medications, and eyedrops or artificial tears to soothe dry, irritated eyes. In more serious cases they would do decompression surgery to ease pressure on the nerve but is rarely performed because it can cause hearing loss and permanent facial nerve damage.
Although getting it twice in one’s lifetime is unusual, the Mayo Clinic highlights that it can have complications, including irreversible damage to your facial nerve. Thus, it is best to seek immediate medical help to discover the illness’s underlying cause and severity.
Get the Health For Mzansi newsletter: Your bi-weekly dose of kasi health, wellness and self-care inspiration.