Eye Health Central

Bell's Palsy

Whats Is Bell's Palsy

Bell's palsy

Bell's palsy isn't strictly an eye condition, as it affects one half of the entire face, but since that does include one eye, it can have an affect on vision. It' is a type of facial paralysis which is related to the seventh or cranial nerve. The effect is has limits all muscle control on one half of the face, including the eye lids. Because the muscles that close the eye are unable to function, special care needs to be taken to ensure the eye is protected, and doesn't dry.

Roughly 1.5% of all people are likely to experience Bell's palsy at one point in their life. The onset of Bell's palsy can be sudden, and its cause isn't always clear. There are associations between the condition and several viral infections, like shingles, or herpes simplex, but can occur in people without those diseases, as well. Brian tumors and strokes can potentially trigger it, people with diabetes, and pregnant women are also at a higher risk.

Mature woman with Bell's Palsy smiling with only half her face

While Bell's palsy can occur suddenly, it usually takes several days for it to fully develop and reach its maximum level of facial paralysis. As it develops, one side of the face will begin to feel droopy, and certain muscles will no longer function properly. The nerves that control the raising of eye lids are separate from the ones that close them. This means that while blinking may not be possible, opening the eye can still be done easily. Smiling, frowning, and eyebrow control will also be difficult, if not impossible. It may even affect the ability of half of your tongue to send taste signals to your brain.

One of the effects that Bell's palsy has that is specific to the eyes is in regards to the eyelid, and the inability to close it completely. This can lead to exposure keratitis, an eye condition caused by excessive dryness, due to the inability to blink. To prevent this, frequent use of eye drops is recommended, as well as patching over the affected eye, especially during sleep.

There is no cure or effective treatment for Bell's palsy, but it does typically resolve on its own in a few weeks or months. Only in very rare cases does it last longer, or become permanent. Steroid treatments sometimes show some benefit in reducing the effect and duration of the condition, but not in all cases. Facial massage may also be beneficial.

Possible long term side affects of Bell's palsy include corneal ulcers, and outward turned eyelids, which may need to be corrected with surgery. There are several more serious condition which exhibit similar symptoms to Bell's palsy, such as herpes zoster, Lyme disease, sarcoidosis, and brain tumors. While Bell's palsy isn't dangerous or life threatening on its own, you should seek out professional medical attention should any of the symptoms arise. It's vital that these more dangerous conditions are ruled out.

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 29 Aug 2016, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020