What Is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is a condition where partial or total weakness or paralysis of the facial nerve occurs. It may develop suddenly, or develop more gradually over a period of 24 to 48 hours. The first noticeable sign may be slurred speech or a crooked smile as the nerve is responsible for controlling facial expressions, taste, eye tearing, and even hearing. (2)
For some, it arrives with the onset of facial numbness or a tingling sensation. And for others, it may occur in concert with weepy eyes, sensitivity to sounds, change in taste, headache, and possibly pain behind the ear.
Sometimes referred to as facial palsy, researchers are not certain as to the cause; however, Bell’s palsy is linked to a variety of viral infections including herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, and many others. (3) The symptoms typically start to resolve within a few weeks, and most people recover completely within six months. In rare cases, symptoms may continue for life, or it may reoccur.
Signs and Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
As many of the signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy present similarly to those of a stroke, it is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately to rule out a more serious and potentially life-threatening condition.
Many people experience an odd, Novocain-like numbness and paralysis in the lips, face and eye — like you’ve just left the dentist’s chair. In addition, the most common symptoms include: (4)
- The onset of weakness or paralysis on one side of the face that occurs suddenly, or over a period of 48 hours.
- Facial drooping in the corner of the mouth
- Drooling and changes in amount of saliva produced
- Increased sensitivity to sound
- Pain around the jaw
- Pain behind the ear
- Decreased ability to taste
- Changes in quantity of tears produced
- Inability to close an eyelid
Causes & Risk Factors
While a cause has not been identified, most medical professionals agree that the symptoms of Bell’s palsy are a result of one of the following viral infections:
- Herpes simplex (cold sores and genital herpes)
- Herpes zoster (chicken pox and shingles)
- Epstein-Barr (mononucleosis)
- Respiratory illnesses
- Rubella (German measles)
- Influenza B
- Coxsackievirus (hand-foot-and-mouth disease)
Bell’s palsy can strike at any age. Ethnicity and genetics have not been found to increase risk, except for those with recurrent episodes, where researchers believe there may be a genetic predisposition. Additional risk factors include: (5, 6)
- Pregnancy, especially during the third trimester
- Respiratory illness, flu, or a cold
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- High blood pressure
- Recent trauma
- Environmental toxins
When you have symptoms of Bell’s palsy, your medical team will ask a variety of questions to help them with a definitive diagnosis. Be prepared to answer questions about medications you are currently on, any recent illnesses you’ve experienced, foreign travel, and family experience with this condition. Your physician may have MRI, CT or EMG tests run to confirm nerve damage and to rule out other causes of the weakness or paralysis. (7)
Once diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, antiviral drugs, and physical therapy. Previously, decompression surgery was recommended; however, this procedure may lead to permanent hearing loss and have other non-reversible side effects. For individuals with long-lasting symptoms, plastic surgery to correct facial nerve damage may be recommended. (8)
If blinking is not possible because of the weakness or paralysis, you are susceptible to corneal abrasions, and damage to the retina, which may permanently affect your vision. Your physician may prescribe artificial tears, protective eyewear, an eye patch and lubricating ointments to protect your eyes. Use these products as instructed and report any soreness, pain, discharge or redness in the eye immediately.
13 Natural Treatments for Bell’s Palsy
1. Eye Care.
If one of your eyes does not close, it is imperative that you protect it as the doctor recommends. Wearing protective glasses during the day, an eye patch at night, and using hydrating eye drops can help prevent long-term damage. (9)
2. Moist Heat.
Many find that a warm cloth may help resolve pain and discomfort. To relieve tension and promote restful sleep, add one or more of my favorite essential oils for anxiety like lavender, rose, ylang ylang or chamomile. Repeat the warm compress whenever pain reappears, or you need to relax.
Ask your physical therapist for massage techniques that you can do at home. Many patients find gentle massage of the face can ease symptoms and discomfort. In addition, ask for a referral to a licensed massage therapist with experience in Bell’s palsy treatment and book an appointment for not just the face, but for the whole body as the benefits of massage therapy include inflammation reduction, stress and anxiety relief, and improved immune system functioning. (10, 11)
According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture stimulates nerves and muscles, providing relief to patients. (12) In fact, many experience improvement after just one or two treatments. The key is to find an acupuncture practitioner in your area with expertise in treating Bell’s palsy. The sooner you can begin acupuncture sessions, the better.
5. Vitamin B12.
Associated with nerve growth and reduction in inflammation, vitamin B12 may be more effective than prescribed steroids, according to a small study from 1995. Patients in the study were given vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) injections, steroids, or vitamin B12 injections and steroids. Complete recovery was significantly shorter in the vitamin B12 group with the mean recovery time of just two weeks, in comparison to nearly 10 weeks for those on just steroids. (13)
In addition to enjoying vitamin B12-rich foods like grass-fed beef and beef liver, sardines, wild-caught fish, cottage cheese and eggs, adding a high-quality B12 supplement may help your recovery. In the study, the B12 injections were given directly into the damaged nerves. Talk to your physician about injections and whether you are a candidate for this treatment.
6. Vitamin B6.
Associated with healthy nervous system function and eye health, ensuring you are getting enough vitamin B6 is imperative in any Bell’s palsy treatment plan. As B6 is water soluble, supplementation is not typically recommended; it is far better to consume vitamin B6-rich foods like free-range turkey breast, grass-fed beef, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and chickpeas.
Found in every cell of our body, zinc is an essential trace mineral that must be a part of every Bell’s palsy treatment plan. Used for 1,000s of years to heal wounds, boost immune system response, and support healthy thyroid function, it is also a proven treatment for colds, certain respiratory illnesses, and viruses. (14) Adding zinc-rich foods to your diet like lamb, pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, chickpeas, cashews and others can help you heal quicker from the virus or underlying condition causing your symptoms.
8. Meditation and Relaxation.
Relieve muscle tension and chronic pain with guided meditation, yoga, regular exercise and deep breathing exercises. Some studies show that stress may exacerbate symptoms, and there are some reports that chronic stress may lead to relapses.
9. Castor Oil Compress.
Used for 1,000s of years to improve circulation, prevent the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and to support lymphatic function, castor oilcompresses may help to spur healing by enhancing blood flow to the affected areas. Gently warm a tablespoon of castor oil and massage into your face. Cover with a warm damp washcloth, and leave it one for 20–30 minutes. Repeat the castor oil compress twice a day until the symptoms have abated.
10. Bell’s Palsy Exercises.
A physical therapist can provide you with personalized facial exercises that can improve the brain-to-nerve functioning. Simple exercises include wrinkling your nose, smiling wide, frowning, opening your mouth wide, raising eyebrows, winking and blinking your eyes can help to promote healing. Do your exercises a couple of times a day for best results.
Used for decades to treat a wide array of ailments and conditions including stress, insomnia, chronic pain, and muscle tension, there is evidence that supports biofeedback therapy as a Bell’s palsy treatment. Researchers believe that electromyographic feedback improves motor function of facial muscles, helping patients return to normal. (15)
Locate a therapist in your area by searching The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Inc.’s practitioner directory on their website.
One of the strongest anti-viral herbs available, echinacea boosts immune system function, reduces inflammation, and fights viral infections, including those commonly linked to this condition. (16) Select a high-quality liquid Echinacea supplement for best absorption. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service indicates that for immune system function, the proper dose is 10 milligrams per one kilogram of body weight, for a total of ten days. (17) Use an online calculator to determine the best dose for you.
Another outstanding antiviral herb, elderberry has been proven to reduce the duration of colds, lessen flu symptoms, fight sinus infections and respiratory infections – all conditions that are linked to common symptoms. (18, 19, 20) A wide variety of elderberry products is available including teas, syrups, ointments, lozenges, and pills. Elderberry is considered safe. However, it should not be used by individuals taking laxatives, TheoDur, some diabetes medications, diuretics, immune-suppressing drugs including Prednisone, and those undergoing chemotherapy.
Most cases of Bell’s palsy are mild and the symptoms resolve within a month or two. However, potentially serious complications are possible. In the most severe cases, total paralysis of the affected area may continue, causing irreversible damage to the facial nerve.
For some people, involuntary contractions of muscles may also occur, and not resolve. Also, partial or complete blindness in the eye on the affected side may occur. (21) In addition to Bell’s palsy, facial weakness or paralysis can occur with Lyme disease, genetic disorders, brain tumors, stroke, ear infections, and physical trauma making it imperative that you seek medical attention at the onset of the symptoms.
Bell’s Palsy Key Points
- Bell’s palsy impacts one side of the face, causing weakness and/or paralysis.
- For most, symptoms resolve within a month or two; only rarely are they permanent.
- It is likely caused by a viral infection like herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, Rubella, and others.
- Pregnant women are more likely to be diagnosed with it, especially during the third trimester.
- It is not contagious, although the underlying viral infection may be.
- Boosting immune system response with antiviral herbs is essential.
- As many of the symptoms mimic symptoms common with stroke and other serious medical conditions, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately at the onset of symptoms.
Natural Treatments to Help Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
- Try acupuncture as it stimulates nerve function.
- Vitamin B12, B6, and Zinc are all linked to speedy recovery.
- Moist heat can help pain and discomfort.
- A gentle facial massage can help alleviate symptoms and discomfort.
- Protecting the eye, if you cannot blink, is one of the most important things during recovery to prevent permanent eye damage.
- Meditation and relaxation can help chronic pain and tension.
- A castor oil compress may help encourage healing by drawing blood flow to the affected area.
- Personalized facial physical therapy exercises can help improve nerve function.
- Biofeedback therapy may help motor function of facial muscles.
- Echinacea and elderberry supplements can help improve immune system function.
Bell’s palsy is a temporary form of facial paralysis caused by damage or trauma to the facial nerves. The condition disrupts the function of the facial nerve, which interrupts the messages that the brain sends to the facial muscles. The result is facial weakness or paralysis. However, there are treatments available for this condition. (1) Bell’s palsy natural treatments can help strengthen the the facial nerve and reduce pain. The condition is often associated with other conditions. These include, for example, diabetes, high blood pressure, injury, Lyme disease, and multiple sclerosis. With the right kind of Bell’s palsy natural remedies at your fingertips, you can work to reduce some of your Bell’s palsy symptoms. (2)
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
•The onset of weakness or paralysis in one side of the face that occurs suddenly or over a 48-hour period
•Facial drooping in the corner of the mouth
•Drooling and changes in the amount of saliva produced
•Increased sensitivity to sound
•Pain around the jaw
•Pain behind the ear
•Decreased ability to taste
•Changes in quantity of tears produced
•Inability to close an eyelid
Bell’s Palsy Natural Remedies
Many patients suffering from the condition find relief in Bell’s palsy symptoms through massage therapy. Visit a licensed massage therapist with experience in Bell’s palsy treatment and book a full-body appointment. Massage can help in a variety of ways, such as reducing inflammation. Furthermore, it can ease stress and anxiety one may experience due to this condition.
Acupuncture is fantastic for treating numerous issues, including insomnia, depression, digestive issues, and even side effects from chemotherapy. Additionally, acupuncture may also provide relief as a Bell’s palsy natural treatment. This practice stimulates the nerves and muscles, which can offer relief from symptoms. Find an acupuncturist with experience in treating Bell’s palsy.
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3. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is associated with eye health and nervous system health. As such, this vitamin is an important part of Bell’s palsy natural treatment. (3) You can increase your vitamin B6 intake by eating plenty of foods rich in this vitamin. Foods rich in Vitamin B6, for example, include chickpeas, potatoes, bananas, pistachios, avocado, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
When it comes to the ability to heal physically, do not underestimate the abilities of meditation and related practices. Meditation isn’t just for mental healing. This is because when you heal mentally, you help your body heal physically. Remember, the brain is a powerful tool! As such, guided meditation, yoga and deep breathing exercises can all help ease the symptoms of Bell’s Palsy. These practices can relieve muscle tension and chronic pain by reducing stress. Taking a few minutes each day to slow down and focus on positive energy may help relieve anxiety.
Zinc is known for its ability to heal wounds and boost immune system response. (4) For this reason, people often use it when they feel a cold or some other common illness coming on. Similarly, zinc can help treat Bell’s Palsy. Adding zinc-rich foods to your diet can help your body heal from the underlying condition that is causing your symptoms. For example, you might try spinach, kidney beans, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and watermelon seeds.
6. Castor Oil
Many people use castor oil for a variety of issues, including kidney or liver problems, and even infertility. Castor oil is known to help improve circulation, prevent the growth of bacteria and support the lymphatic system. Using a castor oil compress may help with healing by enhancing blood flow to the affected areas. Warm one tablespoon of castor oil and massage it onto your face. Cover your face with a warm, damp washcloth and leave it on for 20-30 minutes. Use the compress twice a day. (5) Additionally, you may find this exercise to be quite relaxing and therapeutic, which will help lower stress. This will in turn lend itself to easing your symptoms.
7. Bell’s Palsy Exercises
Certain types of exercise may help you regain strength and use of your facial muscles. Try visiting a physical therapist who has experience working with Bell’s palsy patients. They can provide you with personalized facial exercises that will help improve nerve functioning. Simple exercises for Bell’s palsy may include, for example, wrinkling your nose, smiling wide, frowning, and raising your eyebrows.
Elderberry also works great as a Bell’s palsy natural remedy thanks to its strong anti-viral properties. This berry boast quite the impressive resume, in fact. For example, it can help reverse diabetes, help control weight, and offer relief from allergies, to name a few. Additionally, elderberry can fight inflammation and illnesses in general. (6) Elderberry is available in different forms, including tea, syrup, ointments, lozenges and pills.
You may have heard of taking echinacea for a cold or the flu. However, just like zinc, this supplement also works to help relieve symptoms of Bell’s palsy. This is because echinacea can help boost immune system function and reduce inflammation. Choose a high-quality liquid Echinacea supplement and take 10 milligrams per one kilogram of body weight, for ten days to help alleviate symptoms. (7)
10. Moist Heat
A warm cloth can also help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with Bell’s palsy. Add essential oils such as lavender, rose, ylang ylang or chamomile to a warm cloth. Use this compress whenever pain appears or you want to relieve tension. Along the same vein of massage or using castor oil, this method will also help reduce stress, adding to the relief of your symptoms.