Medical researchers believe that Bell’s palsy is caused when the seventh cranial nerve (the facial nerve) becomes inflamed. The inflammation causes paralysis on one side of the face resulting in the crookedness of the face. This distortion makes it difficult to close the eyes, smile, and eat on the affected side of the face. Usually, it takes three days to approximately a week to experience beginning of symptoms to utmost weakness. It’s important to thoroughly evaluate the history of the onset and development of the paralysis since a mass lesion may be the suspected cause if the progress of the condition takes more than a couple of weeks.
People of all ages and race can suffer from Bell’s palsy although this disease usually strikes people in the ages of 40 and above. In the United States, an estimated 40,000 people each year are diagnosed with this problem. People suffering from diabetes as well as pregnant women are usually prone to this condition. Possible complications of muscle contractures along with permanent facial weakness can occur. Western modes of treatment for Bell’s palsy include drugs and/or surgery. Several research works have indicated that acupuncture can be a viable treatment for Bell’s palsy for the restoration of the normal function of the face and to relieve the symptoms. The results are usually good when acupuncture is used for the treatment of Bell’s palsy. This condition usually resolves by itself within weeks or a few months with or without treatment.
Bell’s palsy Symptoms
The most common symptoms of Bell’s palsy include complete paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of the face. Listed below are other signs and symptoms observed in patients with this condition:
-Disappearance of the naso-labial fold and facial creases
-Heightened sensitivity to sound on the side where the paralysis occurs
-Inability to control saliva from drooping on the corner of the affected part of the mouth
-Pain behind the ear or around the jaw on the affected side
-Inability to shut the eyelids and sagging of the lower eyelids; Bell’s phenomenon (upward rolling movement of the eye) occurs when patient tries to close the eye
-Eye irritation due to poor lubrication
-Lessened production of tears although the eye may seem to excessively tear because of eyelid control loss
Complications Associated with Bell’s palsy
-Salivation, tearing, and abnormal facial movement at inopportune moments causing embarrassment to the patient
-Infection and damage of the eye
-Permanent disfigurement of the face
Diagnosing Bell’s palsy
There is no exact etiology for Bell’s palsy although there can be several features related to it. Usually a process of elimination is done to diagnose the disease. It is important to carefully rule out the possibilities of other conditions possessing similar signs and symptoms.
Bell’s palsy Treatment
Since chances are good that incomplete Bell’s palsy resolves by itself without treatment, treatment may sometimes be unnecessary. For those suffering from complete paralysis, treating the symptoms with steroids as soon as they appear is the most effective way of addressing the problem. Antiviral medication like acyclovir can also be used, although its effectiveness may not be that impressive. Surgery to lessen the pressure on the facial nerve can also be done; the benefits, however, are not certain. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture can be used combined or along with other Bell’s palsy modes of treatment.
Chinese medicine practitioners believe that Bell’s palsy is the result of “Wind Attack” or Zhong Feng. This condition is believed to be related to an invasion of “wind” resulting in blood stagnation and an imbalance in the vital energy or “Qi” of the person. To clear wind and improve circulation of blood and movement of Qi, acupuncture can be used. Several studies conducted in China have indicated that acupuncture produces a therapeutic effect that leads to the treatment of Bell’s palsy symptoms. The results of these studies show that in the treatment of facial paralysis, acupuncture had a minimum cure rate of 37% and a highest cure rate of 100%, with an average of 81%.
Bell’s palsy symptoms can be successfully relieved with acupuncture more so when the treatment is started within the first two weeks of diagnosis. This type of modality uses needles to stimulate natural pressure points on the body and to alleviate pain by treating the inflammation and swelling. For Bell’s some of the important acupoints that may require needling are located on the hands, forehead, large intestine, spleen, gall bladder, liver, and stomach. What part of the affected side of the face needs to be needled differ from person to person. There are no side effects associated with the treatment.
After a Typical Acupuncture Bell’s palsy Treatment Procedure
A treatment known as cupping may be performed after the needles have been removed. This type of treatment is meant to boost the circulation of blood and Qi throughout the body and to eliminate invading wind. Cupping may be done five times a week depending on the severity of the symptoms. The patient may need to perform stress reduction techniques and follow dietary recommendations after being treated with acupuncture. He/he should avoid alcohol and sugar and drink lots of water every day.
if the patient undergoes acupuncture treatment within the initial two weeks after the symptoms appear, he/she may experience a reduced sensation of numbness, better muscle function on the affected side of the face, and restored circulation as early as after five to seven visits. There are studies that indicate Bell’s palsy patients do respond better to acupuncture when herbal remedies are included in the treatment. Herbs used for Bell’s palsy treatment are known to perform three basic functions; to restore balance to the internal systems, strengthen the body and kill the harmful virus. When they are prepared or prescribed by a qualified acupuncturist, these herbs often have no or very few side effects.
Recent studies to observe the effect of acupuncture on symptoms of Ball’s palsy have been done. Though the studies suggest that acupuncture does produce a lot of beneficial effects, more studies are recommended to prove once and for all the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of this condition.
Bell’s palsy is a disease that cannot be prevented from occurring, but once it has developed, the eyes need to be protected to prevent injuries and infections.