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Bell’s Palsy

Immune | May 15, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Immune, Nervous system

Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s palsy is sudden, weakness or paralysis of the muscles in one side of the face. Sometimes the cause is unknown, but often viral infections and autoimmune system responses are suspected. The condition usually resolves by itself within a few months in 90% of cases. Early treatment can help reduce the severity and prevent complications.

Symptoms of Bell’s palsy

The symptoms of Bell’s palsy usually come on quite suddenly and include:

  • paralysis or weakness on one side of the face
  • facial droop with difficulty making facial expressions such as smiling and closing eyes
  • heavy feeling of the face
  • pain around the ear or jaw on the affected side
  • decreased taste
  • a change in saliva and tear production
  • drooling
  • headache
  • increased sensitivity to sound on one side

For most people Bell’s palsy is short-lived. Symptoms usually begin to subside within a few weeks, with complete recovery within 1-6 months. In rare cases, Bell’s palsy symptoms continue for life.

Complications include

  • irreversible damage to facial nerves
  • involuntary contraction of certain muscles when your trying to move others (synkinesis)
  • damage to the affected eye due to excessive dryness and scratching of the cornea

What causes Bell’s palsy?

Bell’s palsy is caused by swelling and inflammation of the facial nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face. The facial nerve passes through a narrow corridor of bone at the base of the skull on its way to your face and this is where the nerve can become pinched and swollen. Besides facial muscles the facial nerve affects a small bone in the middle ear, salivary and tear glands function and taste.

In Bell’s palsy, the inflammation of the facial nerve disrupts the relay of nervous system messages—resulting in the characteristic droopy appearance on one side of the face.

Viruses that have been linked to Bell's palsy include:Viruses that have been linked to Bell's palsy include:

  • Herpes simplex: cold sores and genital herpes
  • Herpes zoster: chickenpox and shingles
  • Epstein-Barr: glandular fever
  • Cytomegalovirus infections
  • Adenovirus: respiratory illnesses
  • Rubella: German measles
  • Mumps virus
  • Influenza B: flu
  • Coxsackie virus: hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Natural treatment options

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of studies that have been done to support the effectiveness of specific nutrients in the treatment of Bell’s palsy. However, given what we do know about the following nutrients and how they function in the body they could be helpful in treating the condition.

Lipoic acid

A potent antioxidant which protects our nerves from damage. In an animal study, lipoic acid had a positive effect on nerve healing in rats with facial paralysis. When it was combined with methylprednisone, lipoic acid enhanced the effect of the steroid medication and was suggested to be a good alternative if methylprednisone could not be used.
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Vitamin B12

According to a small study, vitamin B12 may be more effective than prescribed steroids in treating Bell’s palsy.

Vitamin B12Participants in the study were either given vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) injections, steroids, or a combination of the two. Complete recovery was significantly shorter in the B12 group, just 2 weeks compared to nearly 10 weeks for those just on steroids. The reason why B12 was so effective is because it is associated with nerve growth and a reduction in nerve inflammation. As an alternative to injections, high doses of 1-2mg per day could be taken orally instead.

Fish oil

Rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, fish oil can help to reduce inflammation and support healthy nerve function. Although there are no studies to support the use of fish oil in Bell’s palsy they could offer a simple and cost-effective solution with minimal side-effects.

Other nutrients which may be of benefit include:

  • zinc for antioxidant and immune system support
  • magnesium for enhancing nerve and muscle health
  • vitamin B6 for healthy nervous system function and eye health

Antiviral herbs

A main cause of Bell’s palsy is viral infection and there are a range of herbs with natural anti-viral properties.

Examples include echinacea, elderberry, St John’s wort and lemon balm. The latter two, provide additional protection against nerve damage and pain.

Curcumin extracted from turmeric and Jamaican dogwood could be helpful for further pain relief and to reduce nerve inflammation.

Physical therapy

The facial muscle that is paralysed in Bell’s palsy can shorten and lead to permanent contractures. A physical therapist can educate you on ways to prevent this from happening through facial muscle exercises such as wrinkling your nose, smiling wide, frowning, opening your mouth wide, raising eyebrows, winking and blinking your eyes. Repeat these exercises a couple of times a day for best results.

Eye care

Chronic dry eyes are a common occurrence in Bell’s palsy because of the lack of tear production. This is worsened if you are unable to close one of your eyes. Your doctor might recommend you wear protective glasses during the day, an eye patch at night and use hydrating eye drops.

Acupuncture

AcupuncturePlacing thin needles into specific areas of the skin can help to stimulate nerves and muscles and provide pain relief in Bell’s palsy.

Moist heat and massage

Warm 1 tablespoon of oil such as castor or sweet almond oil and massage gently into your face twice daily.

After massage apply a warm wash cloth to the affected area to relieve pain and discomfort.

For additional pain relief and relaxation, you could try adding a few drops of an essential oils such as lavender or rosemary.

Biofeedback therapy

Used for decades to treat stress, chronic pain and muscle tension, there is evidence to support the use of biofeedback therapy as a treatment for Bell’s palsy. Researchers believe that electromyographic feedback improves motor function of facial muscles and reduces the severity of synkinesis.

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References

Thomsen M. Phototherapy desk reference: third edition, Sydney

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/bells-palsy

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20370028

Tekdemir E, et al. The effects of lipoic acid and methylprednisolone on nerve healing in rats with facial paralysis. Acta Otolaryngol. 2018 Jan 8:1-5

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29310488

Jalaludin MA. Methylcobalamin treatment of Bell's palsy. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Oct;17(8):539-44

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8749227

Pourmomeny AA, et al. Prevention of synkinesis by biofeedback therapy: a randomized clinical trial. Otol Neurotol. 2014 Apr;35(4):739-42

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24317208

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