Learn more about facial nerve disorders and what causes them.
A facial nerve disorder can be caused by infection, trauma, or neurological conditions. There are many different forms of facial nerve disorders, but ultimately the symptoms are very similar. There are three common facial nerve disorders caused by infection:
The cause of Bell’s palsy is currently unclear, but it has been linked to viral infections such as the cold sore and genital herpes virus, the chickenpox and shingles virus, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus infections, respiratory illnesses, mumps, rubella, influenza, and hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy are weakness or total paralysis on one side of your face, facial droop, drooling, pain around your jaw or ear, increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side, headache, loss of ability to taste, and change in saliva or tear production.
While most people affected by Bell’s palsy fully recover without any medical assistance, a physician should be consulted to diagnose and determine the best course of action. A physician may prescribe medications or physical therapy to assist in the treatment of Bell’s Palsy. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary.
Ramsay Hunt Syndrome
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is caused when the shingles virus effects the facial nerve near one of your ears, causing partial facial paralysis. The most common symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome are a rash with blisters around your ear and facial paralysis to one side of your face.
Medications are commonly used to treat Ramsay Hunt syndrome and reduce the risk of any permanent damage. A physician may prescribe antiviral medications to combat the chickenpox virus, corticosteroids to boost the effects of the antivirus, anti-anxiety medications to relieve any vertigo, and pain medications to reduce any pain associated with the syndrome.
Lyme disease is a facial nerve disorder which is contracted by being bitten by a deer tick infected by the disease. The early symptoms of Lyme disease include a rash and flu like symptoms. Later symptoms, if left untreated, include an erythema migrans rash, joint pain and neurological problems. The treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics. Oral antibiotics are given to those with Lyme disease that has not yet affected the central nervous system. Intravenous antibiotics are given to those with Lyme disease that has affected the central nervous system.
Trauma or Injury Based Disorders
A trauma or injury based facial nerve disorder can be caused by trauma to the head or face, or during a surgical procedure on your head or face.
A traumatic injury to your head or face is the most common cause of severe permanent facial paralysis. Symptoms for trauma induced nerve paralysis are the inability to blink or close the affected eye, difficulty making facial expressions, difficulty chewing food or drinking, and difficulty speaking. Treatments can include medications to reduce the swelling from the trauma, facial nerve decompression surgery to relieve the pressure on the affected nerve, and eye drops to keep the affected eye lubricated.
Neurological Based Disorders
Other related conditions can cause facial nerve disorders. Skull base tumors, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, or a stroke may cause you to have facial paralysis.
Skull Base Tumors – A tumor in the base of the skull can place pressure on the facial nerve and cause facial paralysis. The symptoms for skull base tumors are much like the symptoms for trauma based facial disorders. Surgery can be completed to remove the tumor and relieve the pressure on the facial nerve.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome – Guillain-Barre Syndrome typically occurs in people over the age of fifty and is usually preceded by the flu, a cold, or a stomach virus. There is speculation around how this syndrome occurs, but it is believed that the immune system attacks nerve cells causing this disease. The symptoms begin as tingling in your arms and legs which later effect your entire body. It is often accompanied with weakness. In some cases, you may experience paralysis. Mobility tests and a spinal tap will assist your physician in diagnosing this disease. Treatment may include antibodies, immunoglobulin, or plasmapheresis.
Peripheral Neuropathy – Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the nerves carrying messages to and from the brain are damaged. This can be caused by diabetes, rare inherited diseases, alcoholism, poor nutrition, vitamin deficiency, certain medications, kidney or thyroid disease, and infections such as AIDS, Lyme disease, or shingles. The treatments for peripheral neuropathy vary based on the cause of the disease. Increasing your vitamin intake if you are deficient, abstaining from alcohol if your cause is alcoholism, monitoring your blood sugar levels if you are diabetic, or discontinuing certain medications if it is medication induced.
Stroke – A stroke is a very common occurrence that is caused by a blocked artery or bleeding on the brain which causes your brain to get less oxygen. The symptoms of a stroke are weakness, dizziness, slurred speech, headaches, numbness, vision problems, confusion, trouble walking or talking, and often a facial droop on the left side. The first three hours after symptoms begin are crucial and medical attention should be sought as early in the three-hour window as possible. If the stroke was caused by a blocked artery, otherwise known as an ischemic stroke, treatment includes an anti-clogging medication to unclog the artery. If the stroke was caused by a leaking or bursting blood vessel, otherwise known as a hemorrhagic stroke, the leak or burst will need to be located and the bleeding needs to be stopped. A hemorrhagic stroke can be caused by uncontrolled blood pressure, an aneurysm, or tangled blood vessels. If blood pressure is the issue, your physician will prescribe you medications. If the stroke was caused by an aneurysm or tangled blood vessels, your physician may recommend a surgical procedure.