Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says while a handful of Bell’s palsy cases were reported in clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine, they did not conclude these cases were caused by vaccination. Therefore, persons who previously had Bell’s palsy may receive the vaccine, although it is a good idea to check with your physician.
Bell’s palsy, named after the Scottish anatomist Sir Charles Bell, is the most common diagnosis linked to facial nerve paralysis. Bell, a 19th century surgeon was the first to identify the inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve as a source of one-sided facial paralysis.
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysis in the facial muscles. The facial nerve is the seventh cranial nerve or CNVII. It emerges from the pons (the largest part of the brainstem located above the medulla and below the mid-brain) of the brainstem and controls facial expression muscles. The seventh cranial nerve supplies movement to each side of the face. It also transmits taste sensations from the tongue and carries nerve impulses to the tear glands, the saliva glands and muscles of a small bone in the inner ear.
Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls facial muscles become inflamed, swollen, or compressed. The exact cause of this damage is unknown. Most scientists believe that reactivation of a dormant viral infection can cause the disorder. Impaired immunity from stress, sleep deprivation, physical trauma, and minor illnesses are suggested as likely triggers.
Generally, Bell’s palsy only affects one side of the face. At its onset, the facial muscle becomes inflamed and swells causing pressure on the fallopian canal which inevitably restricts blood and oxygen getting to the nerve cells.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, Bell’s palsy affects approximately 40,000 Americans every year. It can affect both genders and all ages, but seems to be highest to those in the 14 to 45 age group.
Symptoms vary from person to person and range from mild weakness to total facial paralysis. Most common symptoms are a noticeable weakness on one side of the face, drooping of the mouth, drooling, inability to close an eye and excessive tearing.
A diagnosis is made when a physician examines for upper and lower facial weakness. A test called electromyography (EMG) uses very thin electrodes that are inserted into a muscle and can confirm the presence and extent of nerve damage. In most cases, Bell’s palsy symptoms improve without treatment. However for more significant cases, treatments can include oral steroids, antiviral agents, analgesics such as aspirin or ibuprofen, physical therapy, facial massage and acupuncture.
For most, the prognosis is very good. Marked improvement is seen in 85% of cases within three weeks. It is important to protect an affected eye during this time by using drops or ointment. Eventually most individuals recover normal facial function within six months or less although some are left with minor facial weakness.
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