Harvard Women's Health Watch

What to do about Bell's palsy

Recovery takes time, patience, proper eye care, and maybe a medication.

Bell's palsy is a sudden paralysis involving the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of the face. It can cause startling changes on the affected side: a drooping mouth, a sagging eyebrow and lower eyelid, and an eye that won't fully close. Bell's palsy is not life-threatening, and its symptoms are usually temporary, but they can be very distressing, interfering not only with facial appearance but also with the ability to speak, eat, sleep, or enjoy food. Recovery can take weeks to months, during which many people curtail their usual activities; some become socially isolated.

Bell's palsy usually begins without warning and develops quickly — over the course of hours. It may be preceded by symptoms suggesting a viral illness, such as fatigue or a headache. The facial weakness generally peaks within 24 hours and thereafter rarely worsens. But it doesn't get better right away, either, and that can be discouraging.

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