Bell's palsy causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in one side of the face. It is a common cause of facial paralysis. Other causes can include a stroke or transient ischaemic attack. Call 999 for an ambulance if you or someone you are with develops sudden facial paralysis.
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy vary from person to person. The weakness on one side of the face can be described as either:
- partial palsy, which is muscle weakness (less than a complete loss of movement)
- complete palsy, which is no movement at all (paralysis) – although this is very rare
Bell's palsy can also affect the eyelid and mouth, making it difficult to close and open them. In rare cases, it can affect both sides of a person’s face.
When to seek medical advice
As well as being a symptom of Bell's palsy, facial weakness or paralysis can also be a sign of a more serious condition – such as a stroke.
Call 999 for an ambulance if you or someone you are with develops sudden facial paralysis, so a doctor can find out the cause.
Causes of Bell’s palsy
Bell's palsy is believed to happen when the nerve that controls the muscles in your face becomes inflamed and swollen. This causes the nerve to be compressed (squeezed) as it passes through bone in the skull.
The exact cause is unknown, although it's thought to be due to a viral infection.
The herpes virus is thought to be the cause. But other viruses may also be responsible.
Other causes of facial paralysis
Other causes of facial paralysis include (see when to seek medical advice above):
- a stroke or transient ischaemic attack
- congenital facial palsy – children born with facial weakness
- injury to the facial nerve in an accident – such as a cut to the cheek or skull base fracture
- injury from surgery – which is most common during surgery of the parotid gland and neck
Who is affected
Bell's palsy is a rare condition. It's most common in people aged 15-60. But people outside this age group can also suffer from the condition. Both men and women are affected equally.
Treating Bell's palsy
Around seven out of 10 people with Bell's palsy make a complete recovery. This is with or without treatment.
Most people notice an improvement in their symptoms after about two to three weeks. A complete recovery can take up to nine months. The recovery time varies from person to person. It will depend on the amount of nerve damage.
Prednisolone, a type of corticosteroid, may be used to reduce the swelling of the facial nerve. Your GP can discuss whether this treatment is suitable for you.
Eye drops may be required to prevent problems if you are unable to close your eye. Tape may also be used to close the eye while sleeping.
Around three in 10 people with Bell’s palsy will continue to experience weakness in their facial muscles. Around two in 10 people with the condition will be left with a more serious long-term problem.
- persistent facial weakness
- eye problems
- difficulty with speech, eating and drinking
- reduced sense of taste
- facial muscle twitching
Bell's palsy may reoccur in up to 14 per cent of people, especially if there is a family history of the condition.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.