Bell’s palsy is when one side of the face becomes weak or paralyzed. This is a result of nerve damage, and although the exact causes of this damage are not clear, the cold sore virus is suspected to be one of the leading causes in most cases. The condition usually sets in quickly, and bears some resemblances to the symptoms of a stroke. However, Bell’s palsy is not a serious condition, and rarely lasts for more than a few weeks.
People who experience Bell’s palsy will feel a sudden weakness or numbness on one side of their face, which may make it difficult to speak or close their eye. This in turn can lead to other issues, such as drooling or irritation of the eye, pain by the ear, and inability to taste.
Even though Bell’s palsy will disappear on its own in most cases, physical therapy can be used to speed up the process. The majority of these exercises are simply a matter of consciously recreating facial expressions. The good news is that these are simple, safe exercises that anyone can do unsupervised at any time of the day, making it easy to speed up the recovery process.
Sitting in front of a mirror, you should start off by moving all of the different parts of your face: forehead, eyebrows, nose/cheeks, and mouth. Try to raise both your eyebrows. You should expect that one side will raise noticeably higher and easier than the other, but don’t just keep trying to force the affected side to move. Gently use your fingers to help move your muscles in the right direction, trying to stimulate as much up and down movement as you can.
Next, you should scrunch up your face to stimulate movement in the nose and cheeks. You may be thinking that this region of the face does not require as much movement, but stiffness or weakness here can affect the whole face, so it is important not to neglect it. Once again, try to use your fingers to help the affected side of your face mimic the movement of the unaffected side.
You should also try inhale through the nose to flare up your nostrils. This is not likely to be an activity you attempt frequently, so if you’re having trouble, try various combinations of deep, slow, strong, and fast inhalations (just be sure to close your mouth for this exercise). You can also try covering the unaffected nostril, which may cause the affected nostril to work harder. It is important to note that at no point in these exercises should you have any difficulty breathing.
For the mouth, begin by trying to smile with your lips closed. Use your fingers to make sure that the two corners of your mouth stay in the same relative position on your face. After doing this a few times, take your fingers away and try to hold your smile in position unaided for as long as you can. Then repeat this exercise, only by lifting each corner of your mouth individually.
For the affected eye, you should look down, close the eye, and use your fingers to stretch the eyebrow above it, while also lightly rubbing the eyelid. The goal of this exercise is to prevent the eyelid from becoming stiff. After this, see how much movement you have in the eyelid. If you have trouble closing it, squinting may also help.
The eye can be one of the most demanding aspects of Bell’s palsy. If you are having trouble closing one eye, this could lead to irritation and other problems. Eye drops are recommended to anyone who has difficulty in this area, and many patients find that wearing an eyepatch to bed makes their situation more manageable.