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Bell's Palsy

Bell's palsy is a weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. It occurs when the nerve that stimulates the movement of facial muscles is damaged.


The most common sign of Bell's palsy is weakness on one side of the face.

Other symptoms that may be present include:

  • Pain behind the ear
  • Facial pain, which may precede paralysis by a few days
  • Tearing on the side of paralysis
  • Altered taste on the same side of the tongue
  • Sensitivity to loud noises on the same side of paralysis

Facial palsy presents with weakness on one side of the face. About half of patients with Bell's palsy present with pain behind their


Facial paralysis can have multiple causes. The most common cause is a virus within the facial nerve.

Other causes include:

  • Ear infections
  • Stroke
  • Temporal bone fracture
  • Sarcoidosis and other inflammatory conditions
  • Tumors of the facial nerve, temporal bone or saliva gland

Bell's palsy is more frequent in diabetics and pregnant women.


After a complete history and physical exam, your physician will order some tests to diagnose the cause of paralysis.

A hearing test (audiogram) and a test of the facial nerve (electroneurography) are usually performed.

Imaging of the temporal bone, brain, and the face may also be warranted to further evaluate the facial nerve.


Treatment for Bell's palsy depends on the cause.

When the cause is an infection of the nerve, anti-viral medications and steroids may be prescribed. Surgery may also be necessary.

When the cause is a tumor or paralysis resulting from resection of tumors of head and neck, the treatment usually consists of one or more of various facial reanimation procedures.

An important aspect of treatment is caring for the eye. Although tearing on the paralyzed side is common, the surface of the eye becomes dry because it cannot fully close.

Artificial tears and a lubricating ointment will be prescribed, and your physician will recommend that you keep the eye taped close while you sleep.

Learn more about other facial nerve disorders ›

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