Imagine one morning waking up and finding you can’t shut your left eye, move your left eyebrow up and down, wrinkle your nose, feel the left side of your tongue or even smile. Imagine being a healthy eater with no prior health issues and waking up looking like you’ve had a mini stroke. Your once normal face being pulled to where your phone can’t even recognize you to unlock it. This is the reality that hits for those that have Bell’s Palsy.
What is Bell’s Palsy
Prior to being diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy I hadn’t even heard of the condition or knew anyone diagnosed with it. For those that don’t know what Bell’s Palsy is I will give a brief explanation. It was discovered by Charles Bell and named for his discovery though as early as 1683 similar conditions were documented by Cornelis Stalpart van der Wiel. Basically Bell’s Palsy occurs when the 7th cranial nerve that comes through a small hole in the skull swells and the functions of this nerve are compromised. Many symptoms can vary from person to person and can include facial paralysis, the inability to blink the affected eye, loss of taste, loss of feeling in the tongue, the inability to smile and many other uncomfortable symptoms.
Bell’s Palsy typically resolves itself when the nerve swelling goes down and does not require treatment (though one should seek medical help and confirm the condition is not something more serious). The condition can be debilitating when it comes to trying to eat or speak depending on how the person is effected. The cause of Bell’s Palsy has been linked to viral issues and other issues in some cases, but the exact cause hasn’t been long pointed and their is no instant cure for it. Once the symptoms subside (some may take up to six months to clear) the condition typically doesn’t repeat itself.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
For me my symptoms developed suddenly and while I was sleeping. The night prior to having visible symptoms of Bell’s Palsy I had bitten my tongue. It is not uncommon to do this and I have done it before multiple times in my life while eating or talking and thought nothing of it. Looking back I think the numbness I was experiencing in my tongue though prior may have caused me to bite it and could have been the condition starting. Unlike other accounts I have read I have not been sickly, I have not had any recent viruses and I do not suffer from herpes or immune system issues like HIV.
I am a relatively healthy person, I eat organic, I typically avoid meat, I grow some of my own food, use natural products, exercise and I don’t smoke or vape. At first the left side of my face felt like it had a Charlie Horse in it that I couldn’t work out and sometimes had pain on the scale of 7. I felt pins and needles in my face like when a limb feels, “asleep” from sitting or laying a certain way.
I am blessed that my case isn’t as advanced as some I have read about. I can close my effected left eye with assistance to sleep and to moisten it. In my face I have experienced some continuous burning which I attribute to nerve pain and my left ear feels sensitive to sound. My left nostril is smaller than the right and somewhat caved in from the drooping face muscles.
Tips for Dealing with Bell’s Palsy
A heating pad helped to relieve some of the discomfort the first couple of days. Using a hand massager especially on my cheek (which felt like a pulled muscle) was also, effective in making the pain tolerable. I also, found a refrigerated jade roller with Vitamin C cream helped with some of the discomforts. I was prescribed prednisone for the first 5 days at 50mg to help with the nerve swelling. This treatment I have read helps some people. I can’t pin point if the prednisone helped or not. My major muscle discomforts did subsided in 48 hours after initial onset. At first it seemed impossible to eat or speak, but I figured it out and moved past it. It took about three weeks before I could chew without spilling my food and to drink from a straw.
On a long term I found taking epsom salt baths and relaxing seemed to take some of the tension out of my face. I had acupuncture going into my 8th day with Bell’s Palsy and it seemed to help with the muscle cramps in my face and gave me some feeling back inside my mouth. I had read where it relieved some symptoms for people, but didn’t work for others and was willing to give it a try. I continued twice weekly acupuncture through my Bell’s Palsy to improve the elasticity in my face and deal with discomfort.
I am homeopathic and find essential oil help me to deal with stress and I have been using them through my Bell’s Palsy journey. I already took zinc for my immune system and rarely experience colds and have not had Covid-19. I have been taking elderberry to help my immune system and B12 and B6 while having Bell’s Palsy. I can’t tell you if these treatments are honestly helpful or in my mind, but I do know I am normally a healthy individual prior to this diagnosis.
Living with Bell’s Palsy
If you’re suffering from Bell’s Palsy a simple Google search will show you’re not alone and about 40,000 people are effected in a year. The ability to wear a mask in public has been a new blessing and prevents people from staring at my drooping face. I am very conscientious of the way I speak and that my one eye doesn’t blink. I will admit I feel ugly and like people are staring at me (even though they most likely are not) when I am in public.
The psychological effects were probably worse than the physical for me. I depend on being able to smile and speak to people for my job. Without this I was unable to effectively do my job. It was difficult to speak and I unintentionally slur my words. I practiced daily speaking and smiling in a mirror to help myself regain control of my expressions and muscle functions. Eating was also, difficult due to not being able to feel half my tongue or mouth. Chewing had to be thought out and so I found it best to cut food into small sizes and take small bites.
Acupuncture seemed to help me regain some of my ability to eat due to lessening the numbness in my mouth. I still choked easily on food if I was not careful. Without full control of half my lips it is difficult. During the first few weeks I couldn’t drink from a straw because the water seeped out my mouth.
Little things I took for granted like smiling at a stranger, kissing my husband, chewing gum or whistling for my dogs I couldn’t do. It was easy to feel discouraged and depressed, but I knew that eventually all these functions would return. The times that we think will break us I believe are when God helps us to build a backbone of steel.
Pain is often times a dark place, but I knew one day when I overcame this I would look back on this dark time and realize the blessing that it was. In the future maybe someone will figure out what causes this and develop a cure for Bell’s Palsy so no one will have to go through the extended discomfort it causes. In the meantime I think it is important for those with Bell’s Palsy to share their experience with others. Maybe something I’ve shared can bring someone else with Bell’s Palsy comfort ❤️
UPDATE: At week 4 weeks with Bell’s Palsy I was hospitalized with Hypertriglyceridemia that caused severe pancreatitis. Being in the hospital a week gave my face time to rest and going into week 6 I regained a lot of my facial muscle use back and the ability to smile. I think rest is key to helping the facial swelling. Taking Grape Seed Oil for pancreatic inflammation I think helped with the nerve inflammation too, in my face. My doctors said, they couldn’t determine a connection between my Bell’s Palsy and the issues I had that hospitalized me.
I’m almost at a year since I first had the symptoms of l Bell’s Palsy. I still haven’t regained the ability to blink my effected eye in synch with the other one without forcing it. Everyone tells me it isn’t really noticeable. Under the effected eye I still have twitching sometimes. I still have some random head and jaw pain as well at times. It seems to get worse when it is hot outside or I am under stress.
I have learned to live with these issues and to mostly ignore it. I am grateful to be able to smile, though it is different than it was before Bell’s Palsy. I also, am blessed the swelling in my effected cheek went down as well as the crookedness of my nose. If you’re suffering with Bell’s Palsy don’t loose hope. The majority of people regain their ability to smile and facial movement.