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Because the facial nerve has so many functions and is so complex, damage to the nerve or a disruption in its function can lead to many problems. Symptoms of Bell's palsy, which vary from person to person and range in severity from mild weakness to total paralysis, may include twitching, weakness, or paralysis on one or both sides of the face, drooping of the eyelid and corner of the mouth, drooling, dryness of the eye or mouth, impairment of taste, and excessive tearing in one eye. Most often these symptoms, which usually begin suddenly and reach their peak within 48 hours, lead to significant facial distortion.
Other symptoms may include pain or discomfort around the jaw and behind the ear, ringing in one or both ears, headache, loss of taste, hypersensitivity to sound on the affected side, impaired speech, dizziness, and difficulty eating or drinking.
Bell's palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles, the 7th cranial nerve, is swollen, inflamed, or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. Exactly what causes this damage is unknown.
Many scientists believe that a viral infection such as viral
Some cases of Bell's palsy are mild and do not require treatment. In these cases, symptoms may subside on their own within 2 weeks. For those cases that do require treatment, steroids such as prednisone have been used with success to reduce inflammation and swelling. Other medications such as acyclovir --used to fight viral infections -- may shorten the course of the disease. Analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may relieve pain. Because of possible drug interactions, patients should always talk to their doctors before taking any over-the-counter medicines. Keeping the eye moist and protected from debris and injury is important. Other therapies such as physical therapy, facial massage or acupuncture may also be used. In general, decompression surgery for Bell's palsy is controversial and is seldom recommended.