Does your face feel odd or stiff? Do you find it difficult to smile, and is one of your eyes dripping tears, unable to close? You may be suffering from a condition known as Bell’s palsy. It is a form of temporary facial paralysis that results from damage to one of the two nerves in your face. It usually only affects one side of the face, although there are rare cases when both sides are affected. Don’t panic – there are a lot of treatments for this condition. The most important thing is to consult your doctor immediately if you have the signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy.
Diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy
Some symptoms of Bell’s palsy are similar to stroke. During diagnosis, your doctor will rule out stroke, infections, and tumors to confirm Bell’s palsy. There is no standard and specific laboratory test to diagnose Bell’s palsy, so your doctor may do a preliminary diagnosis by observing your face, and asking you to move your facial muscles. If there are still doubts about the diagnosis after a few days, he may recommend the following tests:
- Imaging scans: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), and X-ray are sometimes used to eliminate other possible causes of facial paralysis, such as skull fracture, infection, or tumor.
- Electromyography (EMG): EMG can confirm nerve damage and determine its severity. EMG uses an instrument called an electromyograph to detect the electrical activity of muscle cells when they contract, and also when they are at rest.
Bell’s palsy is an idiopathic condition, which means it arises spontaneously from obscure or unknown causes. Your doctor will likely confirm Bell’s palsy when no underlying cause is found during diagnosis.
Medical Treatment for Bell’s Palsy
The most important thing to remember about Bell’s palsy is that it is temporary, so there’s no need to panic. Most people recover fully from the condition without any treatment at all. Your doctor though may recommend medications and physical therapy to speed up your recovery. Here are the common medical treatments for Bell’s palsy.
- Corticosteroids and antiviral drugs: Since the underlying cause of Bell’s palsy is still obscure, not all experts agree on the effectiveness of drugs used to treat the condition, which basically consist of corticosteroids and antiviral medications. Corticosteroids like prednisone have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the swelling of the facial nerves. With less swelling, the facial nerves fit more comfortably within the bony frame of the face, reducing the drooping effect.
Antiviral medications are sometimes prescribed to treat Bell’s palsy because it is suspected that viruses can cause it. The herpes simplex virus and the virus that causes shingles and chickenpox have all been linked to Bell’s palsy. Consider taking antiviral drugs like acyclovir and valacyclovir to reduce your symptoms.
Some studies show that early treatment with corticosteroids, antiviral drugs or a combination of both, improves symptoms. Other studies though, do not. As of now, it appears that corticosteroids are more effective than antivirals in treating the illness.
- Physical therapy: Facial paralysis can cause permanent distortions in your facial muscles, since inactive muscles tend to shrink or shorten. Exercise and massage your facial muscles to keep the flexibility of muscles. You may also apply a hot compress on the affected area if you experience pain. It’s also advisableto go to a physical therapist for more supervised therapy sessions.
- Surgery: Surgery is rarely used to treat Bell’s palsy, and is only done as a last resort. The surgical procedure used to treat the condition relieves facial pressure by opening the bony passage through which the facial nerve passes. This surgical procedure is controversial and rarely recommended. Another surgical option is to have plastic surgery to make your face look better and function easier.
Alternative Treatments for Bell’s Palsy
Research is ongoing on medications to treat Bell’s palsy. The following are some alternative treatments for the condition that are less commonly prescribed by doctors.
- Vitamin B12: Look in your medicine cupboard if you’ve got a bottle of vitamin B12. According to some studies, vitamin B12 has great potential in reducing the symptoms of Bell’s palsy. The vitamin actively protects nerves, eases inflammation, and reduces nerve irritants such as the toxic substance, glutamate. One study found out that vitamin B12 is even more effective than steroids in reducing symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Patients who took vitamin B12 recovered on average after two weeks, whereas those on steroids only recovered after 10 weeks.
Ask your doctor if it’s beneficial to take vitamin B12. Some doctors prescribe 500 mcg of vitamin B12 three times a week through injection to treat the illness. Vitamin B12 is also available in 5 mg lozenges that can be taken up to eight times a day.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC): ALC, a nutrient found in meats, vegetables, and grains, has also been found to improve the symptoms of Bell’s palsy. ALC is an anti-inflammatory substance that’s used to treat neurological problems, like nerve weakness, nerve injury, and poor memory. It reduces damage caused by free radicals, maintains the production of energy within nerve cells, as well as stabilizes the nerves’ membranes. All of these properties make ALC quite effective against Bell’s palsy. ALC supplements are available in 250 mg and 500 mg capsules.
- Methyl-Sulphonyl-Methane (MSM) and Histamine: Some studies show that MSM, a sulfur-containing nutrient, can also be used to treat Bell’s palsy. It’s available in 500 mg capsules that can be taken three times a day.
Histamine is a substance in your body that can reduce inflammation caused by Bell’s palsy. It is not available in tablet form, but the nutrient carmosine, which regulates histamine, is available in 100 mg capsules. Talk to your doctor though before attempting to change your histamine levels, because too much histamine is toxic, and may cause deadly allergies.
- Vitamins B1, B2, and B6: These vitamins boost other factors that nourish your nerve cells. Doctors prescribe them to treat forms of nerve damage or brain failure. Your doctor may recommend taking 50 mg of vitamin B1 and B2 three times a day, and 50 to 100 mg of vitamin B6 three times a day to treat your condition. It’s best to take vitamin B6 for only a brief period of time however, since it can potentially cause more harm than good in the long-term.
- Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP): ATP is a chemical that’s essential in generating energy in the cells. Scientific tests using ATP together with the B vitamins mentioned above, show that the combination has a significant impact in speeding up recovery from Bell’s palsy. Findings show that 100% of patients who had partial nerve paralysis, and about 87% of those who had full paralysis recovered completely through the combination. In contrast, only 67% of patients who took steroids recovered from the illness. You can boost your body’s ATP by taking Mitochondrial Resuscitate tablets.
Coping with Bell’s Palsy
The cosmetic effects of Bell’s palsy can be hard to live with. Don’t sink into depression though, and just stick to your medications to get over the illness as quickly as possible. Here are some tips to cope better with the condition:
- Go out, and try to have fun: It’s not easy to have fun when you’re afflicted with Bell’s palsy, but let the thought that it’s temporary give you some peace of mind. Go out with your close friends on picnics or travel to places you’ve never visited before to unwind and have fun. Reducing stress in your life may quicken your recovery.
- Use eyedrops: Bell’s palsy can affect your ability to close the affected eye. You should always keep the eye moist to prevent eye damage. Apply some eyedrops if you feel your eye is getting too dry or itchy.
- Use your fingers: Use your fingers to open and close your eyelids. Doing this frequently will help keep the eye moist.
- Apply ointment and wear an eye patch: Apply creams on the eye or wear an eye patch at night to keep the moisture in. Some people tape their eyelids shut at night after applying ointment to make sure that they don’t open while they sleep.
- Wear sunglasses: Wearing sunglasses or goggles keeps dust out of the affected eye. Large sunglasses, like aviators, can also hide some of the drooping caused by Bell’s palsy.
Idiopathic illnesses like Bell’s palsy are harder to prevent because their causes are not clear. The best way to avoid them is to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating properly and working out regularly. Since nerves are involved, it also helps to reduce stress in your life. Try to relax more, resolve conflicts in relationships, and get plenty of sleep. A healthy lifestyle will not only reduce your risk of having Bell’s palsy, it will also reduce your risk of having any other illness out there.
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