Bell’s palsy is believed to be the result of inflammation of the seventh cranial nerve (facial nerve) that leads to facial paralysis and distortion on the affected part of the face; it can affect facial functions such as the closing of the eyes, smiling, and eating. The development of this disorder from the manifestation of the symptoms to maximal weakness can take about at least three days to almost a week. It is vital to review the history of the beginning and development of the paralysis since a duration of more than a couple of weeks from the onset of the problem may indicate the presence of a mass lesion.
People of all ages may develop Bell’s palsy although people in their 40’s are more prone to this disorder. Bell’s palsy is a rare condition affecting just around 40,000 Americans each year. Age is a risk factor as a lot of cases involve people over the age of 65. Pregnant women are also susceptible to this condition as well as people suffering from diabetes. Bell’s palsy complications can involve permanent weakness of the facial muscles, facial muscle contractions, and incomplete closure of the eyelid. Western modalities may involve drug therapy and/or surgery. Different studies have shown acupuncture to be effective for the treatment of symptoms of facial palsy that leads to the normalization of the patient’s face. The results of acupuncture for Bell’s palsy patients are often very good with about 80% fully recovering within a few weeks of treatment; for those without treatment, recovery might take months.
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy
The most common symptoms of Bell’s palsy are the complete paralysis or weakness of the muscles on the affected part of the face. Other symptoms may include (take note that these symptoms occur on the affected side of the face):
-Hypersensitivity to sound on the ear
-Pain behind the ear or around the jaw
-Poor tear production although the eye may seem to tear often. This is due to lack of control of the eyelid.
-Irritation of the eye resulting in inadequate lubrication
-Difficulty in shutting the eyelids and a sagging of the lower eyelids; these can be experienced when the patient tries to shut the eye
-Saliva drooping from the corner of the mouth
-Disappearance of the nasolabial fold and facial creases
Bell’s palsy Complications
-Infection and damage of the eye
-Permanent facial disfigurement
-Abnormal salivation, tearing, and facial movement which can result in an embarrassing situation
Bell’s palsy Diagnosis
There is known etiology for Bell’s palsy. When attempting to diagnose this condition, the doctor will follow an elimination procedure in which other conditions that manifest similar symptoms are ruled out.
Bell’s palsy Treatment
Oftentimes, treatment may not be required as people afflicted with this condition usually recover without treatment. Steroids can help for patients suffering from complete facial paralysis. Surgery may be performed to lessen the pressure on the facial nerve although this may not be a guarantee of a cure. Acupuncture can also be considered as a stand-alone treatment or as an adjunct for other Bell’s palsy treatments.
Acupuncture for Bell’s palsy
The term traditional Chinese medicine use to refer to Bell’s palsy is Hsong Feng which literally means “Wind Attack”. This disorder was believed to be caused by an invasion of “wind” that leads to an imbalance in the movement of the body’s vital energy known as “Qi.” Acupuncture is used to clear the wind and boost the flow of blood and Qi. Several studies done by Chinese scientists show that acupuncture was able to treat many of the symptoms of Bell’s palsy; results from these studies show that acupuncture has had at least a 37% and at the most a 100% rate of cure with an average of 81%.
Acupuncture can be most effective if treatment is done within a couple of weeks of the diagnosis of Bell’s palsy. This treatment is known to relieve inflammation and pain. An acupuncture procedure involves the use of small and extremely thin needles inserted into the skin in predetermined points in the body known as acupoints. For Bell’s palsy, acupoints on the body and face are targeted. These points include those located in the hands, forehead, large intestine, spleen, gallbladder, liver, and stomach. Acupuncture is a very safe form of treatment as it has no known adverse side effects similar to that of pharmaceutical drugs.
Scott Paglia is a licensed and board certified acupuncturist in Bellingham, WA and provides master level pulse diagnosis, Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture in Whatcom County, WA.