Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes sudden weakness in the muscles on one side of the face. In most cases, the weakness is temporary and significantly improves over weeks. The weakness makes half of the face appear to droop. Smiles are one-sided, and the eye on the affected side resists closing.
Bell’s palsy is also known as acute peripheral facial palsy of unknown cause. It can occur at any age. The exact cause is unknown. Experts think it’s caused by swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face. It could be caused by a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.
Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some Bell’s palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, Bell’s palsy occurs more than once.
Signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy come on suddenly and may include:
- Rapid onset of mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of your face — occurring within hours to days
- Facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling
- Pain around the jaw or in or behind your ear on the affected side
- Increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side
- A loss of taste
- Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce
In rare cases, Bell’s palsy can affect the nerves on both sides of your face.
When to see a doctor
Seek medical help right away if you experience any type of paralysis because you may be having a stroke. Bell’s palsy is not caused by a stroke, but it can cause similar symptoms.
If you have facial weakness or drooping, see your health care provider if you have facial weakness or drooping to find out the underlying cause and severity of the illness.