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HealthInfo Canterbury

Bell palsy

Bell palsy (previously called Bell's palsy) is a condition affecting the face muscles. It affects around one in 5,000 people. Doctors believe that viruses like the herpes virus cause Bell palsy. The virus causes inflammation in people's facial nerves making them swell and become compressed. This leads to weakness or total paralysis of their face muscles. It is temporary in most people, but it can take up to nine months to recover completely. Occasionally, it does not recover completely.

Symptoms include drooping of one side of the face, being unable to smile or close your eye properly, and slurred speech. People sometimes feel their sense of taste is affected. Occasionally, there can be ear pain. The level of facial weakness can vary from mild to total paralysis.

If you get Bell palsy, There is a good chance that you will recover without any treatment. Oral steroid tablets can improve recovery, but only if you start them in the first three days. After this, they may not help much.


Facial paralysis can also be a sign of a stroke. If you or someone with you suddenly develops facial droop or slurred speech, call an ambulance for urgent medial help.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2015.

See also:

Swallowing difficulties

Page reference: 52919

Review key: HIBPA-19334