Being a peripheral neural facial disorder, Bell’s palsy can lead to facial paralysis. This is due to damage to the facial nerve (7th cranial nerve). The paralysis of the facial nerve results in symptoms that can include (on the affected side) tingling around the lips, distortion of taste (particularly on 67% of the tongue), eye tearing or lacrimation, problem moving the facial muscles on the affected side and difficulty closing or lifting the eye.
Bell’s palsy has a cause that so far is still undetermined and it can develop all of a sudden. In the United States, around 40,000 people develop this condition each year. Pregnant women as well as people who have diabetes, respiratory illness, cold, or the flu virus are high risk groups for getting Bell’s palsy.
People who have had Bell’s palsy have experienced headaches, and/or gum, mouth or nose infections prior to the onset of their palsy. Medical researchers suspect that viruses such as the herpes zoster (responsible for shingles) or the herpes simplex virus (virus that causes mouth sores) contribute to the inflammation of the 7th cranial nerve that leads to the paralysis of the face.
Conventional treatments for Bell’s palsy include corticosteroids (to relieve the inflammation of the nerve and pain caused by the inflammation), prednisone (helps block the immune response to prevent the rise of any inflammation on the affected nerve and its surrounding tissue), and Valtrex (this drug focuses in the treatment of the herpes virus) or acyclovir.
About 85% of people with Bell’s palsy completely get well after a few weeks while 15% will have to endure the symptoms of this condition for a long time or even permanently. It is important to rule out other factors that are suspected as causing Bell’s palsy including conditions that impact the central nervous system like intracranial tumors or stroke (cerebrovascular accidents).
These conditions can be verified through diagnostic tests such as MRI, ultrasound, and X-rays. The classical symptoms of numbness and tingling in the affected area along with mouth and lip impairment and difficulty in shutting the eyelid on the affected side of the face are tell-tale signs of Bell’s palsy. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), this facial problem is the result of cold-wind pathogens invading the muscles and tendons, Yangming (Large Intestine, Stomach) meridians and the Shaoyang (Gall Bladder, Liver) meridians.
Bell’s palsy may likely develop if the person is exposed to wind (rides in a boat when the winds are strong, drives or rides in a car with the widows down, or if he/she sleeps near an open window). Cases of Bell’s palsy often rise during the fall and spring seasons.
Another high risk group for Bell’s palsy involves people whose immune system is weak. This weakness may be due to factors such as extreme emotional or physical stress, exposure to drugs and chemicals, inadequate rest, poor diet, chronic or unresolved illness or genetics). Because of this, these people are highly prone to external factors like bacterial or viral pathogens or emotional or physical stress.
Their exposure to these factors causes the immune system to elicit an inflammatory reaction in the affected area causing the surrounding tissues to swell. The swelling affects the normal function of the facial nerve and blood vessels. The swelling may block the flow of blood and vital energy (known as qi) in the face leading to poorly nourished and energized muscles and tendons that the leads to the paralyzing or weakening of the facial muscles as well as symptoms of tingling and numbness. All of these signs and symptoms are classical indications in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) of blood and qi deficiency.
In treating Bell’s palsy with acupuncture, acupuncturists utilize needles on some distal and several acupuncture points to restore the correct flow of blood and qi in the Yangming and Shaoyang meridians and to remove wind pathogens. This procedure can help regain normal facial nerve function and to remove blockages of energy and blood. Bell’s palsy patients are usually treated in four sessions within a whole week and oftentimes, their facial nerve and muscle function get completely treated.
Bell’s palsy oftentimes resolves on its own. This is true if the condition is mild. In most instances, however, Bell’s palsy patients manifest a weak immune system that makes it very difficult for them to successfully overcome the disorder themselves enabling it to come back or linger for a long time. Acupuncture is a strong and effective treatment for peripheral facial paralysis and that is why it is a highly recommended therapy for this disorder. It can help accelerate recovery, enable energy and blood to travel once more to the affected area and has the ability to boost the function of the immune system. To ensure that Bell’s palsy never returns, you need to remove any possible factors that can weaken the immune system. You need to also adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle. This means eating moderate amounts of fish, legumes, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and fruits; lesser amounts of dairy, poultry, and red meat; mild regular exercises, adequate rest and proper outlets for stress.
Usually patients suffering from chronic symptoms of Bell’s palsy who are not getting well with pharmaceutical drugs are placed in programs that aim to rehabilitate their facial muscles. These programs are successful to up to a certain degree. Integrating acupuncture as well as Chinese herbal medicine and cupping into this program can substantially better the outcomes and resolve Bell’s palsy in a faster and more effective way.