The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) estimates there are approximately 40,000 Bell’s palsy cases annually.
The condition is the temporary paralysis of the face, which may appear to be a result of stroke, but is actually not.1 Most cases of Bell’s palsy occur between the ages of 15 and 60. Researchers believe that Bell’s palsy is more prevalent among patients with diabetes, influenza, middle-ear infection, or Lyme disease.1 However, the condition can happen to anyone.
Although Bell’s palsy lasts only two or three weeks, the symptoms can range from mild loss of muscle control on one side of the face, to headaches, jaw pain, drooling, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, eating, or drinking.1
Causes of Bell’s palsy
There are several cranial nerves that control the movement of the facial muscles. Cranial nerve VII (CN VII) controls facial muscles, the eyelids, and the tear and saliva glands. In Bell’s palsy, CN VII has become compressed, which can lead to swelling or inflammation.2 A viral infection, such as viral meningitis, can compress CN VII in response to the infection.1 If this nerve becomes inflamed, it can restrict the proper flow of blood and oxygen to the face, thus leading to Bell’s palsy.
Common medical treatments for Bell’s palsy
Steroids such as prednisone is the most common treatment in order to reduce the swelling of CN VII.1 If the patient has a viral infection, antivirals (such as acyclovir) can also be used. Pain associated with Bell’s palsy will usually respond to aspirin. Special facial massages and exercise techniques are taught to patients to keep the facial muscles properly toned and prevent any further damage.
If the eyelids are affected, the eyes may become dry, which may increase the chance for eye infection or damage to the cornea. An eyepatch or lubricating eye drops will keep the eye moist. In severe cases, doctors may recommend decompression surgery to relieve the pressure on CN VII. However, the procedure is controversial and may not be effective.
Laser treatment for Bell’s palsy
Laser treatment has demonstrated effectiveness in treating a variety of neurosensory and neuromotor conditions such as lower back pain with sciatica and neuropathy.3 In particular, low level laser therapy (LLLT) can help restore functionality to damaged nerves, while also preventing further degeneration.3
An article published in the journal Lasers and Medical Science compared LLLT to high intensity laser therapy (HILT) in the treatment of Bell’s palsy.3 The researchers found that both LLLT and HILT were effective in treating the condition, as compared to those who just received facial massage and exercise. They concluded by recommending both LLLT and HILT for the treatment of Bell’s palsy.
Although Bell’s palsy is a temporary condition, patients may feel a sense of social isolation while they are showing symptoms. With the advent and ongoing improvement of laser therapy for treating a variety of neurological conditions, including Bell’s palsy, patients need not isolate themselves from their social circles.
1 “Bell’s palsy fact sheet.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published April 2003. Accessed June 2015.
2 Bell’s palsy Info Site. “The facial nerve affected by Bell’s palsy.” Accessed June 2015.
3 Alayat MS, Elsodany AM, El Fiky AA. Efficacy of high and low level laser therapy in the treatment of Bell’s palsy: a randomized double blind placebo-controlled trial. Lasers Med Sci. 2014;29(1):335-42.