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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Bell's Palsy - Topic Overview

What is Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy is a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of your face. Damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face causes that side of your face to droop camera.gif. The nerve damage may also affect your sense of taste and how you make tears and saliva. This condition comes on suddenly, often overnight, and usually gets better on its own within a few weeks.

Bell's palsy is not the result of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). While stroke and TIA can cause facial paralysis, there is no link between Bell's palsy and either of these conditions. But sudden weakness that occurs on one side of your face should be checked by a doctor right away to rule out these more serious causes.

What causes Bell's palsy?

The cause of Bell's palsy is not clear. Most cases are thought to be caused by the herpes virus that causes cold sores.

In most cases of Bell's palsy, the nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face is damaged by inflammation.

Many health problems can cause weakness or paralysis of the face. If a specific reason cannot be found for the weakness, the condition is called Bell's palsy.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of Bell's palsy include:

  • Sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of your face that causes it to droop. This is the main symptom. It may make it hard for you to close your eye on that side of your face.
  • Drooling.
  • Eye problems, such as excessive tearing or a dry eye.
  • Loss of ability to taste.
  • Pain in or behind your ear.
  • Numbness in the affected side of your face.
  • Increased sensitivity to sound.

How is Bell's palsy diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnose Bell's palsy by asking you questions, such as about how your symptoms developed. He or she will also give you a physical and neurological exam to check facial nerve function.

If the cause of your symptoms is not clear, you may need other tests, such as blood tests, an MRI, or a CT scan.

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