by Debra Wood, RN
Bell's palsy is a sudden weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. It is usually a temporary condition.
The exact cause of Bell's palsy is unknown. It is thought to be a result of an infection or inflammation that affects the nerve.
Factors that may increase your risk of Bell's palsy include:
Bell's palsy symptoms may come on suddenly or develop over a few days. Initial symptoms may include:
Symptoms of advanced Bell's palsy may include:
Late complications can occur 3-4 months after onset and can include:
Symptoms will often go away on their own within a few weeks. Bell's palsy may resolve after a few months in many people. In some cases, some symptoms of Bell's palsy may never go away. The recovery rate decreases with increasing age.
Physicians will attempt to differentiate between between Bell’s palsy and other causes of facial weakness (including stroke and tumor). You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is usually made with just the physical exam. Information from your health and medical history may be used to determine a potential cause.
Concern about infections, cancer, or other specific causes may require further testing. Tests may include:
For Bell's palsy, treatment most frequently involves medications. You may be referred to a specialist if you have eye problems, if your symptoms worsen, or if your recovery takes longer than expected.
If the facial weakness is due to a cause other than Bell's palsy, treatment for underlying conditions may include medication or surgery.
Your doctor will likely prescribe corticosteroids if your symptoms have been present for a short time.
Antiviral medications along with corticosteroids may be advised. There is no evidence that antiviral medication alone has any benefit.
If the paralysis includes your eyelid, you may need to protect your eye. This may include:
Massaging the weakened facial muscles may also help.
Physical therapy may be advised to improve function.
Symptoms can be distressing. Counseling can help you manage emotional issues and make appropriate adjustments.
There are no current guidelines to prevent Bell's palsy.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Public Health Agency of Canada
Bell's palsy. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at:
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Updated April 2014. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Bell's palsy. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at:
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Accessed October 2, 2017.
Bell palsy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy . Updated December 9, 2016. Accessed October 2, 2017.
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NINDS Bell’s palsy information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Bells-Palsy-Information-Page. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Quant EC, Jeste SS, Muni RH, et al. The benefits of steroids versus steroids plus antivirals for treatment of Bell's palsy: A meta-analysis. BMJ. 2009;339:b3354.
Schwartz SR, Jones SL, Getchius TS, Gronseth GS. Reconciling the clinical practice guidelines on Bell’s palsy from the AA-HNSF and the AAN. Neurology. 2014;82(21):1927-1929.
11/6/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy : Sullivan FM, Swan IR, Donnan PT, Morrison JM, et al. Early treatment with prednisolone or acyclovir in Bell's palsy. N Engl J Med. 2007;357(16):1598-1607.
1/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy : Engstrom M, Berg T, Stjernquist-Desatnik A, et al. Prednisolone and valaciclovir in Bell's palsy: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial. Lancet Neurol. 2008;7(11):993-1000.
9/15/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy : Goudakos JK, Markou KD. Corticosteroids vs corticosteroids plus antiviral agents in the treatment of Bell palsy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;135(6):558-564.
9/15/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy : de Almeida JR, Al Khabori M, Guyatt GH, et al. Combined corticosteroid and antiviral treatment for Bell palsy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2009;302(9):985-993.
2/13/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116940/Bell-palsy : Baugh BF, Basura GJ, Ishii LE, et al. Clinical practice guideline: Bell's palsy. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;149(3 Suppl):S1-S27.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 10/13/2016
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