What is bell’s palsy? Women share things like facial paralysis

What is bell’s palsy? Women share things like facial paralysis

Photo of Elena Shepard, who has facial paralysis, struggling to smile.

Elena Shepard was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, also known as idiopathic facial paralysis, during her last week of pregnancy. (Courtesy of Elena Sheppard via Instagram)

One morning this past June, the writer Elena Shepard When she woke up, she thought, “My face feels weird,” she tells Yahoo Life. “My lips are swollen to me.”

It reminded her of how some women’s lips swell when they’re pregnant, and Shepard was in her last weeks of pregnancy with twins. But after about four or five hours, he lost the ability to move parts of his face. “It was basically a sudden collapse of the right side of my face,” which he says was “extremely painful.”

The 35-year-old Brooklyn resident added: “I thought I had a stroke.” So did her husband. Shepard called her obstetrician, who “very quickly said it sounded like Bell’s palsy” — also known as idiopathic facial paralysis, which Affects about 40,000 people in the United States each year.

What causes Bell’s palsy?

Dr. Jason NellisAn assistant professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins Medicine and a Bell’s palsy specialist, told Yahoo Life that the condition — which comes on suddenly — occurs when the facial nerve that runs with the inner ear becomes inflamed, putting pressure on that nerve and resulting. Facial paralysis

Although the exact cause is not clear, Viruses, such as herpes zoster (which causes chicken pox and shingles) and herpes simplex (which causes cold sores and genital herpes) may play a role. Nellis explained that these viruses can lie dormant and then be triggered in some way. “No one knows exactly,” he said. Nellis noted that Bell’s palsy is also more common in pregnant women, although the cause is not clearly understood.

Sheppard said it was “relieving” to get a diagnosis, but because the symptoms of Bell’s palsy can be similar to a stroke, she had to go to a triage center for an MRI, which ruled it out. He was then prescribed the usual treatment for Bell’s palsy – steroids and an antiviral drug. “One of the keys is early diagnosis and early treatment,” Nellis said. “If you can receive treatment within three days of onset, it has a better chance of meaningful recovery.”

Struggling with facial paralysis

Despite medication, Shepard initially struggled with eating and drinking. “Drinking water—it comes out of your mouth,” she says. “While eating, I bite my tongue and cheeks a lot. It’s just like everything is in the wrong place.”

But the biggest challenge has been dealing with his right eye, which has yet to close. “I’ve had my eyes open now since June,” she says, adding that sharing simple things like showering and washing your face is difficult and uncomfortable when your eyes aren’t fully closed. “Or when the air comes out, your eyes squint to protect themselves but your eyes don’t” with Bell’s palsy.

“It doesn’t feel normal,” says Sheppard, who uses eye drops during the day and ointment at night to keep her eyes moist.

Beyond the physical struggles, Shepard wrestled with the fact that she couldn’t smile in any photos with her newborn. But, she says, being a new mom has also helped her cope with Bell’s palsy. “In a weird way it’s a blessing at the moment – I’m very busy with other things,” she says “I think if I didn’t have two people to live for right now, I would be completely settled and destroyed. But because I’m so busy, I think about it but it’s not busy.”

Although when she has time to think about it, “it makes me really sad,” she shares. At home, Shepard says she’s in “this bubble,” but when she leaves the house to meet friends or run errands, “I see people looking at me and it’s like, ‘Okay, that’s not my face. ‘”

Shepard describes herself as “usually a very smiley person”, so “it’s weird trying to figure out how to convey that without my face”. I just can’t laugh.”

Holly Granger trying to smile with facial paralysis.

Holly Granger says her 2014 experience with Bell’s palsy was “encouraging” and “extremely scary”. (Courtesy of Holly Granger)

Like Shepard, a registered dietitian Holly Granger Also experienced Bell’s palsy around her pregnancy. During the last six weeks of her second pregnancy in 2014, the Alabama native hit the base of the right side of her skull with “severe headaches.”

“Six days after giving birth to my daughter, I went to whistle for the dogs and realized the right side of my lips couldn’t make a whistling sound,” Grainger tells Yahoo Life. “My eyes also drooped, and I had severe pain where my cheekbones and ears meet on the right side. My face was shaking all day, my eyes were shaking and I had a headache.”

Less than an hour after her symptoms began, “the entire right side of my face was motionless and I had severe ringing in my ears.” Like Shepard, Granger thought he had a stroke. “We rushed to the emergency room for an exam and I was told I had Bell’s palsy,” she said, sharing that the whole experience was “very scary.”

Granger said the earache and pain along her cheekbone where her facial nerve was located were “excruciating”, adding: “I had terrible headaches and my eyes were so dry I couldn’t blink.”

She was given “high doses” of steroids and antivirals and told to “protect my eyes by using thick eye drops and taking them off at night,” she says. In addition to the pain, Granger must have seen her face look different from what she was used to. “Mentally, I had an extreme amount of guilt because I felt worthless every time I looked in the mirror,” she says.

Mother Holly Granger with her husband, two children and French bulldog.

Granger, pictured with her husband, children and dog, encourages anyone with Bell’s palsy to find a specialist and a support system. (Courtesy of Holly Granger)

Dealing with the unknown

But both Granger and Shepard said the “unknown” — not knowing how long the symptoms would last — was and is one of the most challenging parts of having Bell’s palsy.

Nellis admits that “the hard part is waiting.” He emphasizes that early treatment is essential for meaningful recovery. “As soon as you know you have oral weakness, go to a doctor and get high-dose steroids and a good course of treatment as soon as possible,” he says. “If you want to have the best chance of recovery, getting early treatment is going to be your best bet.”

Granger eventually recovered and said she had “very few side effects” that only she noticed. His advice for anyone with Bell’s palsy? Seek out a specialist immediately — even if you have to travel to see them — “to make sure you’re taking the right dose of medication because they’re very important in the first few days.”

Also, she says, find a support system. “Over the past seven years, I’ve emailed, called and fielded over 1,000 people with questions about Bell’s palsy,” Granger shared. “However, the main comment I get is how lonely and depressing it can be. Bell’s palsy doesn’t just make you look different – which is devastating for many – but it’s extremely painful and frustrating.”

Nellis agrees that seeking support is “really important,” pointing to her own research that shows people with Bell’s palsy “High rates of depression and anxiety And the quality of life is diminished.” That’s partly because people with the condition can become socially isolated. “They’re less likely to go out for dinner because they’re pooping,” he says, adding: “A lot of it is learning how to adapt to a new normal. have to take … It’s really hard.”

As for Shepard, her facial paralysis is starting to improve, but she still experiences symptoms. He says he’s learned to take things one day at a time. “I have to take it day by day because there’s really no alternative,” she says.

Shepard shared that she was “so worried” about photographs with her kids and not being able to smile in them. “But I’m happy for the moments I have now,” she says. “It’s not the picture I imagined, but it’s the picture of what actually happened, and that’s just as important.”

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