What is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy, or idiopathic facial palsy, is an acute disorder of the facial nerve, resulting in weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles on one side of the face. The condition is a peripheral paralysis, rather than one of the central nervous system diseases. It is usually only diagnosed if other possible identifiable causes of these symptoms are ruled out, such as stroke or brain tumour.
Bell’s palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis. The paralysis causes distortion of the face and interferes with normal functions, such as closing the eye and eating.
Bell’s palsy is most common in young adults, but can occur at any age. It appears to affect men and women equally, although the incidence is higher in pregnant women, diabetics and those who have influenza, the common cold, or some other upper respiratory disorder. It usually gets better on its own, but this can take several weeks. Unfortunately, 20-30 per cent of people are left with residual weakness if not treated properly.
What can cause Bell’s palsy?
The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is not yet known; however, it is believed that paralysis of the facial nerve, the catalyst for the symptoms which define Bell’s palsy, is caused by viral infection, typically the latent herpes virus: herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes zoster virus (Chicken Pox.). It has also been suggested that infections by other viruses are also linked to Bell’s palsy. Other suggestions regarding the causes of Bell’s palsy include:
- Complication of pneumonia
- Physical stress – trauma
- Environmental factors (e.g. cold)
- Metabolic or emotional disorders
All these factors can cause inflammation of the facial nerve. On its way from the brain to the muscles of the face, the facial nerve passes through a tiny hole in the skull. Swelling of the nerve due to inflammation can cause it to get trapped in this hole, causing paralysis of the muscles it supplies.
Symptoms and complications of Bell’s Palsy
The primary symptom which arises as a result of having Bell’s Palsy is the one which identifies and diagnoses the condition – that of paralysis of one side of the face. During the onset of the condition, the affected half of the face is characterized by drooping. In rare cases, paralysis may occur on both sides of the face. The condition generally presents itself quite suddenly with maximal facial weakness developing within the first 48 hours, and can last for weeks before recovery begins to take place. Generally, a patient will be able to recover from the condition him/herself; however, in around 30% of cases, the degree of recovery will be less than satisfactory.
Other symptoms include:
- Facial numbness
- Puffy cheeks
- Nose and/or brow wrinkling
- Loss of taste
- Tearing or dryness of the eye of the affected side
- Jaw pain
- Ear pain
- Speech impairment
- Hearing impairment (intolerance to loud noises) on the affected side
The onset of Bell’s palsy can bring many significant, long term complications with it. These include:
- Chronic loss of taste (ageusia)
- Chronic facial spasm
- Facial pain
- Corneal infections
In some cases, where incomplete or improper regeneration of the facial nerve occurs during recovery, patients may face the complication of synkinesis. Synkinesis is caused by the miswiring of nerves after trauma, and results in involuntary muscular movements accompanying voluntary muscular movements, e.g. if someone with synkinesis moves their eyes, their mouth may also move involuntarily.
How TCM may help
The condition that is congruent with Bell’s palsy in Traditional Chinese Medicine is called “Zhong Feng – Zhong Jing Lao”, which literally translates to “wind attack the meridians.” According to TCM, Bell’s palsy is caused when the exogenous pathogenic wind and cold invade the meridians, muscles and tendons of the face due to “Qi” deficiency. Qi in TCM refers to the vital substances comprising the human body and the physiological functions of internal organs and meridians. It maintains life activities and reflects the resistance of the human body. The good health of an individual is dependent on the smooth flow of energy or Qi in and around the body. Blockage or disruption of the Qi or vital energy flow results in pain or disease.
Bell’ palsy happens when the immune system is deficient or the body’s defences are weak, and the normal flow of Qi and blood is disrupted in the face, resulting in malnourishment of the facial muscles and tendons. The external pathogens cause inflammation in the affected region, resulting in swelling of the surrounding tissues. This swelling, as well as lack of nourishment, can then affect the normal function of the facial nerves. As a result, the facial muscles become weak or paralysed.
Initially, treatment focuses on using acupuncture points on the face and back of the head to expel the Wind and Cold. The acupuncture points that are selected on the face correspond anatomically to the paralysed facial muscles. Depending on the individual’s history, a few additional points may be used.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine sterile needles into specially selected acupuncture points, helping to re-establish the smooth flow of energy, or applying various other techniques to the acupuncture points to bring about healing. In Bell’s palsy, acupuncture treatment might have numerous beneficial effects:
- expel wind
- invigorate Qi and blood flow
- nourish muscle and tendons
- relief of major symptoms associated with the condition
- strengthen defensive Qi for prolonged or recurrent cases
Electro acupuncture involves stimulating several needles to enhance the effect of acupuncture; this is typically used in more chronic or severe cases. Chinese herbal medicine is frequently used an adjunct to acupuncture.
The goal of treatment is to expel the wind-cold from the meridians, improve the circulation of Qi and Blood to nourish the muscles and restore nerve and muscle function. As muscle contraction improves, the treatment also aims to enhance the body’s defences strengthening the individuals’ immune system. In addition, herbs will also be prescribed to aid with recovery.
How we can help
Dr. Xing has a deep passion for aiding patients who are suffering from Bell’s Palsy. He generally uses a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine to address the condition. Throughout his years of experience, he has developed a treatment strategy, including his own uniquely formulated herbal recipe, which is tailored to meet individual requirements based on varying circumstances.
Book your appointment today
We are dedicated to helping you achieve the health and wellness that you desire. If you are interested, feel free to call us at our Frankston clinic on 9785 6688, or our Murrumbeena clinic on 9041 8879 to book an appointment today.