What Is Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s palsy is a neurological condition that causes facial paralysis on one side of the face, causing symptoms such as facial drooping of your eye and mouth and changes in your taste and hearing. The condition affects less than 1% of people in the United States each year.

Although symptoms of Bell’s palsy usually resolve in several weeks or months, the condition can have lasting effects on your appearance and daily life—such as having trouble chewing or not being able to close your affected eye all the way. While there is no cure for Bell’s palsy currently, treatments such as steroids and pain medications can help you reduce symptoms and relieve discomfort. 


Bell’s palsy causes a facial droop on one side of the face. You may not immediately notice the symptoms, but you should keep an eye out if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Drooling
  • Noticeable droop in your eyebrow, eyelid, or mouth
  • Pain behind your ear 
  • Changes in taste 
  • Hypersensitivity to sound 
  • Decreased tearing from one eye 

Each of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people may not even notice the facial dropping until a family member looks at them. Generally, symptoms of Bell’s palsy tend to develop over a period of 48 to 72 hours.


Bell’s palsy affects cranial nerve VII, which is known as your facial nerve. This nerve is responsible for facial movements, such as the expressions you make and being able to move your eyes and mouth. 

Unfortunately, in 60% to 75% of cases, healthcare providers don’t know the exact reason you developed the condition. Researchers have a few theories about the potential underlying Bell’s palsy causes. These include:

  • Inflammation of the facial nerve 
  • Ischemia, or lack of blood flow to the nerves 
  • Sudden exposure to severe cold temperatures 
  • Viral infections that can affect the nerves, such as herpes or chickenpox 

Risk Factors 

Bell’s palsy most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 45 years old. You may also be at a greater risk of developing the condition if you have:

It’s important to note that you can develop Bell’s palsy even if you don’t have a history of these conditions.


At this time, there is no single test that can diagnose you with Bell’s palsy. Your provider will first use a physical exam to learn more about your symptoms. Then, the goal of the diagnostic process is to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms and try to determine if there is a known cause of facial paralysis. 

If your provider is unsure about the cause of your facial paralysis, they can use the following tests to rule out other conditions:

  • Blood tests: Testing for specific infections or proteins in your blood, which can rule out conditions such as Lyme disease.
  • Imaging scans: Computed tomography (CT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help rule out other causes of facial paralysis, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), or a brain tumor.
  • Electromyography: This tests your nerve function to determine if the facial nerve is working appropriately or is damaged. 


Treatments for Bell’s palsy can vary and often depend on two things: whether your provider found the underlying cause of your condition and what symptoms you’re experiencing.  While there is no cure for Bell’s palsy, there are treatment options that can help reduce symptoms. Keep in mind: while symptoms of Bell’s palsy can feel scary or frustrating, the condition does not usually require emergency medical attention.

Most healthcare providers will prescribe Prednisone (prednisolone)—a steroid medication that helps reduce symptoms and lower your risk of long-term complications, like prolonged facial drooping and paralysis. Starting the medication within the first 72 hours after your symptoms first appear can significantly improve your symptoms.

Your provider may also offer additional treatments, which may include:

  • Artificial tears: Eye drops can help prevent severe eye dryness. 
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: These medications may help to relieve pain and discomfort. 
  • Antiviral medications: If the cause of your facial paralysis is due to a virus, these medications can help your body get rid of the virus and reduce symptoms.

Related Conditions 

The risks for Bell’s palsy increase during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester. Bell’s palsy also commonly co-occurs (or, occurs at the same time) as other health conditions such as:

  • Diabetes 
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity 

Living With Bell’s Palsy  

Because the cause of Bell’s palsy cases are unknown, there’s no surefire way to prevent the condition from occurring. 

However, it’s important to note that if you do develop the condition, an estimated 70% of people with Bell’s palsy stop experiencing symptoms six to nine months after their symptoms first appear. On the other hand, an estimated 6.5% of people who experience one episode of Bell’s palsy may continue to experience long-term symptoms. If you develop the condition, it’s good practice to reach out to your healthcare provider and discuss ways to minimize potential long-term effects.

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5 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Heckmann J, Urban P, Pitz S, Guntinas-Lichius O, Gagyor I. The diagnosis and treatment of idiopathic facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy). Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 2019;116(41):692-702. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2019.0692

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