Bell’s palsy is a weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles of one side of the face. It makes half of the face to droop.
In most of the cases, the muscle weakness is temporary and there is an improvement over weeks.
The symptoms of this condition occur due to inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve i.e. the facial nerve. This nerve is responsible for the sensation and movement of the upper and the lower part of the face.
Bell’s palsy is a non-contagious condition and the exact cause is yet unknown. Though not contagious, it is believed that some types of virus are responsible for the condition, and the viral infections are contagious.
Viral Causes of Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy can occur due to reactivation of viral infection and can lead to inflammation around the facial nerve. This can cause compression of the nerve and appearance of symptoms of Bell’s palsy.
Herpes Simplex Virus 1(HSV-1)
Herpes simplex virus 1 leads to cold sores and is seen affecting mostly 67 percent of people worldwide(1)
Herpes simplex virus 1 is contagious and can spread via contact with the saliva, sores, and oral surfaces. The transmission can happen anytime.
This virus can remain in a dormant state in the body and is associated with the facial nerve. It can also get reactivated, developing cold sores again.
The research found HSV-1 in the saliva of 50 percent of people with Bell’s palsy(2)
Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV)
Varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox and can spread by coming in contact with someone with active infection.
The vaccine of this virus is now available which, has lead to a decrease in the number of cases.
Just like the HSV-1 virus, varicella-zoster can also stay in the body in a dormant state and later reactivate as shingles.
DNA of this virus has also been detected in those suffering from Bell’s palsy(3)
Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)
The Epstein-Barr virus causes infectious mononucleosis and is the most common virus found in humans.
It is contagious and spreads to others through contact with body fluids.
There is no cure for EBV and it remains in an inactive state in the body.
A few studies have found EBV-specific antibodies in those suffering from Bell’s palsy(4)
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy may occur suddenly and include:
- Rapid onset of weakness and paralysis of one side of the face
- Facial droop and making a facial expression, closing eyes, and smiling difficult
- Pain all over the jaw and also behind the ear of the affected side
- Loss of taste
- Sensitivity to the affected side
- Change in the number of tears and saliva
There are very rare chances in which the nerves of both sides of the face are affected.
Bell’s Palsy Risk Factors
There are a few risks, established with this condition.
Migraine is found associated with facial and limb weakness. A study found those suffering from migraines have a higher risk of Bell’s palsy(5)
Bell’s palsy is seen more commonly affecting:
- People aged 15-60 years
- Those with diseases of the upper respiratory tract
- Females during pregnancy, mostly in the third trimester
- Those suffering from hypertension
Treatment of Bell’s Palsy
The way Bell’s palsy affects everyone is different. There are different treatments for this condition.
It is important to consult a medical professional to seek the best treatment options.
The treatment options of for Bell’s Palsy include:
The recovery period for Bell’s Palsy is mostly 3 weeks in 85 percent of people(6). It is longer in some and may take from 3-5 months.
Bell’s Palsy Is Not Contagious
Bell’s palsy is not contagious, but the illnesses causing it can be. The viruses that contribute to this condition are HSV-1, SBV, and VZV.
As the condition occurs due to swelling, inflammation, and compression of the facial nerve, the viruses that can affect this nerve can cause paralysis. These viruses are contagious and spread.
It can be corrected with the treatment of the infection.