Bell’s Palsy is a neurological disorder that causes disruptions in the functioning of the facial nerve, causing weakness, headaches, loss of sensitivity, and facial paralysis. It generally affects only one side of the face. It is triggered by the inflammation of, or trauma to the 7th Cranial nerve. Though the exact cause is unknown, it has been linked to a reaction to viral infections, such as Herpes.
Bell’s Palsy can cause:
– Mild weakness to total paralysis of the facial muscles
– Jaw pain & headache
– Decrease in sensitivity (taste, smell)
– Changes in tear and saliva production
Bell’s Palsy can also cause adverse effects on the patient’s mental health, such as anxiety and depression due to helplessness. Society generally shuns patients of Bell’s Palsy, as they often appear arrogant and cold due to their involuntary facial expressions, which are an integral part of communication.
Bell’s Palsy can disrupt the function of various sensory systems, such as the auditory system, the visual system, and the gustatory system. It can cause damage to the auditory system as it can trigger extreme sensitivity to sounds. It can also lead to complications in the eyes, as patients are unable to close their eye/s, and therefore, they can dry out and become infected. In extreme cases, the patient can also lose their vision. It can also create issues in the oral cavity, as Bell’s Palsy tampers with the amount of saliva that is secreted.
There are no specific tests for Bell’s Palsy. They are mostly determined by visual examination of the patient’s face. However, the symptoms associated with Bell’s Palsy can also be caused by other disorders such as strokes and Lyme Disease. When the cause of the symptoms is not clear, the following tests may be used:
Electromyography: This test is used to check for the presence of nerve damage and determine its severity. It stimulates muscles and measures their electrical activity, as well as the nature and speed of the conduction of electrical impulses through the neurons.
Imaging scans: These tests, such as MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), and CT scan (Computerised Tomography) can be used to find the source of the pressure on the facial nerve.
Most people with Bell’s Palsy recover almost all of their facial sensation and function, with or without treatment, in approximately 6-12 months. There are no known treatments of this disease, though doctors can recommend certain medication and physiotherapy to speed up the patient’s recovery.
Sometimes, powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, known as corticosteroids, can be prescribed to the patient to bring down the swelling of the facial nerve. A common example of such a drug is Prednisone.
Another commonly used treatment is antiviral drugs. The use of antivirals remains disputed in the medical community. Though they may help the patient when given with corticosteroids, their effects still remain unproven.
During recovery, the doctor can also recommend simple facial exercises and massages to help prevent the permanent paralysis of the facial muscles.
In the past, special surgeries, known as decompression surgeries, were used to ease the pressure on the facial nerves, but this came at the risk of permanent loss of hearing and facial nerve trauma.
The treatment of Bell’s Palsy does not elicit transplantation.
There are many implications attached to the diagnosis and treatment of Bell’s Palsy.
The price element imputes a socioeconomic implication here. Prednisone, a drug commonly used to treat the disease, is a little expensive and may not be affordable to all classes of society.
MRI, a scan to detect Bell’s Palsy, can have its own plethora of ethical concerns. An MRI cannot be performed on pregnant women and people with metallic implants such as orthodontic implants or pacemakers, as that raises concerns about the safety of the patient as well as rights of the infant.
These modern medical methods can also incense religious worries. Many extreme religious sects, such as Christian Scientists, shun all modern advancements in medicine, and instead, rely on prayers to heal themselves. Hence, they do not usually opt for these treatments.
To conclude, Bell’s Palsy is a little known disease, and therefore, many of its patients are subject to intense social stigma. We can stop this. I urge you, the reader, to raise awareness about this disease, and be considerate to patients of Bell’s Palsy.