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Bell’s palsy is a condition of the eye and a facial paralysis which is caused by failure of the facial nerve to function properly. Consequently, a person is unable to shut or control the muscles of the face which are in charge of the motion of the mouth and eyes. The accurate cause of this condition is not known; however, facial paralysis is associated with a number of other conditions such as Lyme disease, stroke, and brain tumor. In the absence of these other facial paralysis-causing conditions, the condition will be diagnosed as Bell’s palsy. Bell’s palsy was named after Charles Bell, a Scottish physician generally known for detecting and describing this condition. Charles Bell asserted that Bell’s palsy was the most frequent acute mononeuropathy condition, due to the paralysis of one nerve.
Bell’s palsy is characterized by rapid onset of complete and sometimes partial palsy, which sometimes just starts overnight. According to Lockhart, in less than one percent of the diagnosed cases, the condition occurs bilaterally, causing paralysis on all sides of the face. As a result, the sufferer is prone to have a total paralysis of the face. The sudden paralysis or weakness on the affected side leads to drooping of one side of the face. Drooping has been considered as the main symptom of the condition causing the victim, to be incapable of shutting his or her eye(s) on the affected part of the face. Besides drooping, other symptoms of Bell’s palsy include loss of appetite and numerous eye problems counting dry and tearing eye(s). The victim may also feel pain in or behind the ear, experience numbness around the affected side, and may become more sensitive to sound.
In the light of these symptoms, it is believed that the swelling on the facial nerve is caused by an inflammatory condition. This facial nerve is known to pass through the cranium in a thin bone canal just below the ear. When this nerve is swollen and the thin bone canal is compressed, it is believed that the nerve becomes inhibited, damaged or killed resulting in facial paralysis. Some studies have related Bell’s palsy with viral infection. Just as it is believed that some viruses can cause a persistent infection with no apparent symptoms, for instance the herpes-causing viruses, Bell’s palsy has also been attributed to viral infection. Lockhart suggests that acute Bell’s palsy could be as a result of a reactivation of earlier dormant viral infection. Studies indicate that such a reactivation could be prompted by environmental factors, emotional or metabolic disorders, and traumatic experiences. In other words, researchers have claimed that that stress such as physical stress, emotional stress and environmental stress, in addition to a number of other conditions may precede the reactivation of earlier dormant viral infection resulting in facial paralysis. Apart from these theoretical explanations, more studies are yet to identify the real cause of Bell’s palsy.
Bell’s palsy is a rare condition but affects both men and women of all ages. However, the condition is more common in older persons than in children. According to Ahmed, Bell’s palsy is found in about 20 in every 100,000 persons per year and the condition is more common in older persons as its frequency increases with age. However, it can affect anyone regardless of his or her age. In addition, about 40,000 people are diagnosed with Bell’s palsy in the U.S. every year. In the light of these, 4 to 14 percent of the formerly diagnosed cases have been confirmed to be hereditary. The condition is also more prevalent among pregnant women as they are three times more susceptible to suffer from Bell’s palsy than non-pregnant women. Moreover, the incidence of this condition among diabetic persons is four times higher than the overall population.
The severity of the condition differs from one individual to the other. Some patients are known to suffer from severe facial paralysis while some present minor or incomplete facial paralysis. In cases of minor facial palsy, the prospects of recovery are always high and thus treatment would not be required. However, treatment would be recommended in severe cases. For instance, patients suffering from complete paralysis (either on one or both sides of the face), with incapacitated muscles of the mouth and eye, would be administered treatment. Smile surgery is frequently used to correct the incapacitation of these muscles. Steroids can also be used to improve the patients’ recovery. Other drugs that are effective in enhancing facial functions include a mix of acyclovir and the corticosteroid prednisone. The patient with an affected eye is generally advised to keep the eye moist throughout the night.
From the description of this condition, it is important to note that Bell’s palsy is treatable. In most cases, approximately 80% of the patients gain total recovery after treatment within three months. Patients need to take caution and to seek doctor’s advice immediately the signs and symptoms start to show. This condition can be serious and sometimes deadly if not managed properly and in time. For instance, prolonged dryness of the affected eye(s) can lead to impairment of the eye(s). It is therefore important to seek treatment, regardless of the severity of the symptoms. Besides, medical practitioners and researchers should delve into more research in order to determine the real cause of this condition. The numerous theories on the cause of Bell’s palsy may not provide the much needed knowledge on the preventive measures in addition to the management of the condition.