Face no longer works
July 19, 2010 10:23 PM   Subscribe

What was your experience with Bell's palsy?

How did you make it stop hijacking half of your face? It's been a year, and the prescriptions are not working.

This is on behalf of a really nice co-worker who is very upset about it and can't spend thousands of dollars.

He's losing his confidence in basic social interactions.

Personal experience?
posted by Mr. Yuck to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No personal experience, but I have a friend who had it. Basically, it just went away in about a week or two. It was weird while he had it, and the doctor couldn't really give him a prognosis, so he was worried, too. Then, one day, his face worked again.
Not sure if that helps, and I'm certainly not sure if this is typical (IANAMD), but I do know that he was fully insured at the time, and the doctor advised him to wait it out for a while, and it simply cleared up.
posted by Gilbert at 10:37 PM on July 19, 2010

I had Bell's palsy when I was about eight or nine years old. Rest, warmth (ie. not letting my face get too cold - it was winter in a cold climate) and exercise of my facial muscles resulted in a full recovery. I was instructed to practice doing different things with my face several times daily, for example, clenching my eyes tight or smiling as broadly as I could. The aim was to get these actions to be symmetrical between the paralyzed side of my face, and the non-affected side. Three other people in the town where I lived also got Bell's Palsy around the same time - they were all adults placed on a similar recovery regime as myself. I believe that they all improved markedly (though one man did have some residual symptoms).

So, rest along concerted and targeted exercise would be my advice. On the social side of things, my only advice would be for your friend to let people know first up that he has Bell's Palsy, and to explain its effects. That is what I remember doing... I was a very serious child with an interest in biology though.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 10:42 PM on July 19, 2010

I had Bell's Palsy several years ago, and my experience is much like what Gilbert describes. Half my face was numb for a couple of weeks, then it got better.

My understanding is that the nerve damage from the infection is usually temporary, and a couple of weeks is the standard recovery time. But that's only if the infection is successfully treated quickly enough so the inflammation that causes the nerve damage goes away quickly. I'm afraid to say it, but if your co-worker's condition hasn't improved in a year, it may never improve.

I assume that your co-worker has seen a doctor that's familiar with the condition... that's probably what the doctor has told him or her.
posted by dammitjim at 10:47 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am quite pleased with the hive. Please continue.

Alice: Nobody has recommended facial exercises, but it makes quite a bit of sense. Did you do this in front of a mirror?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 11:29 PM on July 19, 2010

My dad had it for a few months. My mom swears it was the oat straw tea she made him drink that helped it improve. I don't think he took any other medication other than the first course of antibiotics.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:28 AM on July 20, 2010

I definitely never received any medication. If I remember correctly, I exercised twice a day in front of a mirror: I clenched my eyes tight; I frowned (so mouth and forehead were exercised); and I smiled as broadly as I could. That resulted in a gradual recovery over six weeks.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 12:36 AM on July 20, 2010

sorry to be the bearer of bad news - I got it almost a decade ago, have never completely recovered. At the time, I was advised to go for corrective surgery if my eyelid refused to close completely. My background reading at the time (confirmed by the neurologist) was that this is somewhat rare, something like 20% of BP sufferers have some sort of residual effect.

Fortunately, it got better over time - to the point where I didn't need an eyepatch before sleeping. I think (although I can't be sure) that it kept improving about 6-9 months after. Electro-massages, warm pads and other remedies were suggested at the time, but nothing worked.

Today? I grin funny (I call it quirky, some people notice and comment, most don't). One eyelid closes more than the other when grinning or stretching my face. Most inconveniently, I have a mild dose of crocodile tears.

Has it affected my life? I suppose, but nowhere near as much as I imagined when I was first diagnosed. Most folks I hang out with either do not notice or are too polite to say (in the country that I live in, if people notice something out of the ordinary - they will ask, it is rarely considered rude to do so)
posted by geminus at 4:01 AM on July 20, 2010

I had it for about a fortnight, and was prescribed low-dose corticosteroids. Complete recovery.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 4:18 AM on July 20, 2010

FIL had it when I first met him, and had it for many months. In his case, apparently the docs thought it was influenced by stress. He started getting more sleep and working on stress relief. It did eventually go away.
posted by galadriel at 5:24 AM on July 20, 2010

I got Bells well over 15 years ago, the level of problem was paralysis of the left side of the face. Classmates thought I had dental surgery because of the paralysis. I was given steroids but I have residual problems where my eye lids are not symmetrical in movement or at rest any longer. It took a professor to diagnose me and not my doctor initially.

Family lore is that my aunt died from paralysis of the face. I am not sure how true this is.
posted by jadepearl at 6:02 AM on July 20, 2010

I got Bell's Palsy about a year ago. I think one key thing to know when comparing your friend's condition to other sufferers is the level of initial paralysis. I had complete paralysis of one side of my face that lasted for several weeks. Many people who get BP have much less severe paralysis that clears up more quickly.

Had I been told to do facial exercises, it would have accomplished nothing in light of the fact that the side of my face would simply not move.

I was prescribed prednisone, valtrex and acupuncture. The acupuncture I did a few times, but seemed like a waste of time for me so I quit. They also did a bit of electroshock and facial massage. I've since read that the electroshock might be contraindicated.

A year later, I'm largely recovered but not completely. My eye closes fine again - that's the key. But I do get crocodile tears every now and I then when I eat. My smile is a bit asymmetrical, as is my moue when I make a kissing face. I notice it, but have never had others comment on it. I live in a country (US) where it would not be polite to comment.

It took about 6-9 months to get to where I am now and I haven't seen any improvement for a while. My doctor suggested I do some sort of muscle therapy for my face - but decided against it for time reasons.

I do think that my case was stress related - and the stress kept up after I got BP which may have exacerbated the situation.
posted by slide at 7:30 AM on July 20, 2010

Here is a good article to pass along to your friend: from my good friend and heroine Amy Goodman
posted by wheelieman at 8:12 AM on July 20, 2010

An older (60s - 70s) male neighbor had Bell's Palsy last summer. He looked rough for the first month or so, but here it is a year later and you can't tell. I believe he was on medication, but not sure. I also think he may have gone to physical therapy as well. I didn't want to pry about details, so I didn't asked follow up questions.
posted by kuppajava at 8:15 AM on July 20, 2010

I had Bell's Palsy when I was young, maybe 11 or 12. Like jadepearl, I was given steroids, and it went away completely within about a month. I don't recall having to do any sort of facial exercises or muscle therapy; the only thing was carrying around eyedrops to keep rewetting my non-blinking eye.
posted by Kattiara17 at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2010

Bell's Palsy is a symptom not a disease in itself. It can be caused by a number of things, most commonly a virus in one of the facial nerves. In my case it was caused by irritation to the nerve brought on because I was severely clenching my jaw at night. Once the jaw clenching problem was solved by having the dentist adjust my bite, being fitted for a special bite guard, and changing antidepressants (which was contributing to the jaw clenching), the palsy went away within a few days.

Proper treatment and the course of the paralysis would depend on the cause. IANAD but had Bell's Palsy for about a year before a change of doctors brought about a change of treatment and a cure.
posted by tamitang at 7:40 PM on July 20, 2010

Thanks everyone!
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2010

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