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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Bell's palsy

Māuiuitanga a Bell

Bell's palsy is a temporary weakness of the face due to damage to a nerve that controls the facial muscles. It usually happens to one side of the face. Unlike a stroke, the facial weakness of Bell's palsy develops slowly, over hours or days.

Anyone can develop Bell's palsy and it affects men and women equally. It mostly happens between the ages of 15 and 60 years.

The cause is not always known, but it's sometimes caused by a virus such as varicella-zoster (that causes shingles), an ear infection or a trauma such as a head injury.


Call 111 for an ambulance immediately if you suddenly have any of the following:

Known as FAST, these are signs of a stroke.

Symptoms of Bell's palsy

Symptoms of Bell's palsy usually develop slowly over hours or days and include:

If you have symptoms of Bell's palsy, see your general practice team urgently as treatment is most useful if started early.

Treating Bell's palsy


You may need a course of prednisone tablets. Prednisone is a steroid medicine that may help to reduce inflammation and decrease the likelihood of your nerves being damaged. The treatment is most effective if started within three days.

Antiviral medication

If your Bell's palsy is caused by shingles (a viral infection), your general practice team may prescribe a course of antiviral medication such as aciclovir or valaciclovir. If your Bell’s palsy is not due to shingles, antiviral medication is unlikely to be helpful.

Eye care

If your eye is affected, good eye care is very important. If your eye doesn't close when blinking, your eye can dry up. You should use eye drops or artificial tears to keep your eye moist. Use artificial tear drops during the day and a thicker solution at night. Ask your general practice team or pharmacist for advice.

Also, your eye will not have its normal protection from your eyelid closing. It's important to protect your eye and avoid scratching the cornea (the thin, transparent layer covering your eye). You may be advised to wear an eye patch by day and to tape the affected eyelid closed at night. You can use tape such as Micropore for this, which you can buy at a pharmacy. This video shows you how to tape your eye closed.

Wear sunglasses when outdoors or protective glasses where your eye might be exposed to dust or debris. Report any symptoms of eye irritation, pain or changes to vision to your general practice team or optometrist.

Mouth care

As your facial muscle may not be functioning fully, food may become lodged around your teeth and gums on the affected side. It's important to clean this area well and remove all debris after eating.

Facial exercises

Facial exercises can be useful to tone your face muscles as the movement begins to return. For example:

If you feel the exercises are making your symptoms worse, reduce the number or frequency of the exercises or seek advice.

Long-term effects of Bell's palsy

For eight out of ten people, their symptoms start to improve within six weeks and they make a full recovery within six months. A few people have the weakness for longer and may need further investigation.

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Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Page created October 2022.


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Page reference: 52919

Review key: HIBPA-19334