Our faces are controlled by a complex network of muscles and nerves. When these components are working as they should, we can speak, chew, and make facial expressions normally. If the facial nerves are disrupted, however, issues like Bell’s palsy, a type of facial paralysis, can occur. Individual’s sometimes fully recover from Bell’s palsy, while others continue to experience smile asymmetry, issues with chewing, or eye, facial, or neck tightness and pain, a condition known as synkinesis. Dr. Erin Smith, a facial plastic surgeon in Austin, Texas, helps patients struggling with the effects of Bell’s palsy and synkinesis to improve their appearance and feel more confident in their everyday lives.
What is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes facial weakness or paralysis. Sudden facial nerve weakness causes one side of the face to droop and sag, preventing normal facial expressions on that side of the face. People of all ages can get Bell’s palsy, and it can range in severity. Some people only experience mild weakness, while others develop total facial paralysis.
In addition to preventing normal facial expression, Bell’s palsy can cause other signs and symptoms of facial paralysis. These may include headache or pain on the affected side of the face, drooling, changes in tear and saliva production, trouble eating and drinking, and changes in taste. Many people are self-conscious about going out in public while they are suffering from Bell’s palsy symptoms.
- What is Bell’s Palsy?
- What Causes Bell’s Palsy?
- Diagnosing Bell’s Palsy
- Treatments Options
- Are You a Candidate for Facial Nerve Surgery?
- Your Bell’s Palsy & Synkinesis Treatment Consultation
- The Facial Reconstruction Procedure
- Risks of Facial Nerve Surgery
- About Dr. Smith
- Bell’s Palsy Frequently Asked Questions
- Your Options for Bell’s Palsy Treatments
What Causes Bell’s Palsy?
The condition is thought to be caused by an inflammation of the 7th cranial nerve, which controls the facial muscles. Many people develop Bell’s palsy after a viral infection, such as herpes, flu, mumps, measles, shingles, or hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
Although anyone can get Bell’s palsy, there are some risk factors. People who are pregnant, have diabetes, or are dealing with an upper respiratory infection are more likely to experience inflammation of the facial nerve. While many people recover from Bell’s palsy without treatment, complications like eye damage, permanent damage to the nerve, or issues with nerve fiber regrowth can occur.
Diagnosing Bell’s Palsy
In many cases, testing isn’t required to diagnose Bell’s palsy. You may be asked to try moving your face so that the doctor can observe any paralysis that may be present. You might also be given a CT scan, an MRI, or electromyography, which can evaluate nerve damage.
Bell’s palsy isn’t the only condition that can cause facial paralysis, and your primary doctor may need to rule out more serious causes of the issue. Usually, the diagnosis is made after other potential causes are eliminated as possibilities. If you are diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, you can talk to your doctor about the next steps.
Many people recover from Bell’s palsy within weeks or months, even without treatment. However, treatment can sometimes speed up recovery or help prevent complications. Medications like corticosteroids can help to reduce inflammation, allowing the nerves to recover faster. Some patients also benefit from physical therapy and antiviral medications. Patients often need to wear an eye patch or otherwise protect their eye on the affected side, as the lid may not fully close.
If the effects of Bell’s palsy persist after six months or so, patients may benefit from non-surgical and surgical treatments to improve facial symmetry. Dr. Erin Smith specializes in treating this group of patients who do not fully recover from Bell’s palsy or develop synkinesis. This may include non-surgical treatments such as fillers or neuromodulator (ie. Botox), or a surgical treatment.
In some cases, Botox can also be used to help relax muscles in the normal side of the face, or to control facial movements that can occur after recovering from Bell’s palsy (synkinesis). Botox is often used for other cosmetic purposes, such as relaxing facial muscles for wrinkle control but can be an effective therapy for Bell’s palsy patients.
Facial surgery can help patients look more like their old selves and can help them to feel more confident and expressive. Generally, these procedures are performed by a skilled facial plastic surgeon. The surgery may focus on just one area, like the brows or eyelids, or it may involve the entire face.
Dr. Erin Smith, who trained at the Facial Paralysis Institute in Beverly Hills, offers several customized surgical options for these individuals. The patient may need a facial nerve surgery called a “selective neurolysis,” which decreases the activity of the muscles causing the abnormal facial movements, pain, and tightness. Other individuals may require repositioning of asymmetric the facial tissues, called a “symmetrical facial repositioning”, while some will need a combination of different procedures.
Are You a Candidate for Facial Nerve Surgery?
Because Bell’s palsy often resolves on its own, not all patients need surgery. However, if symptoms persist and nerve damage continues to affect facial movements, facial nerve surgery may be the best option. Otherwise, healthy men and women may qualify for the procedure.
It’s important to note that facial nerve surgery is a challenging surgery that requires patients to have realistic expectations. Procedures to balance out and symmetrize the face can yield impressive improvement, but the results will never be perfect. Most patients are thrilled with their results, however, and feel the surgery is worthwhile.
Your Bell’s Palsy & Synkinesis Treatment Consultation
If you have been diagnosed with Bell’s palsy or Synkinesis and are seeking treatment, whether Botox injections or surgery, it’s important to get help from a skilled and experienced facial plastic surgeon like Dr. Erin Smith at Buckingham Center in Austin, Texas. Not all plastic surgeons have the necessary knowledge and ability to help these patients recover and it’s important to choose a provider who understands the challenges of treating this condition.
During a consultation with Dr. Smith, you’ll be asked about your history with Bell’s palsy or Synkinesis and about when you were diagnosed. You should tell the doctor about any treatments you may have had and what your goals are.
Dr. Smith will examine you and make a treatment recommendation. She will also give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. Come to your meeting prepared with a list of questions you’d like to ask so you can get the most out of your appointment.
The Facial Reconstruction Procedure
Depending on the type of facial surgery you will be having, you may need to have someone drive you to and from your appointment. If your treatment is limited to Botox injections, you can go to your appointment alone.
Each facial surgery is different. You may need facial implants, a lip or eyelid lift, facelift, or nerve surgery to restore your appearance after Bell’s palsy. Incisions will be placed discreetly and the goal will be to create a natural appearance and/or improved function. Both sides of the face may require surgery to ensure a balanced and symmetrical appearance.
Dr. Smith will provide you with information on how to prepare for your procedure and what to expect during recovery. It’s very important to follow all pre- and post-operative instructions that Dr. Smith and her staff provide. This will help to ensure good results and reduce your risk of developing complications.
Risks of Facial Nerve Surgery
Any plastic surgery procedure involves risks. If you are considering facial nerve surgery, it’s important to understand the potential complications. Dr. Smith will go over the risks before your procedure. These will vary depending on your surgical plan, but may include:
- Anesthesia complications
- Poor healing
- Unfavorable scarring
- Facial nerve damage
- Unsatisfactory improvement
The good news is that risks are minimal when working with a skilled surgeon like Dr. Smith. She makes safety a priority and has the experience to reduce risk factors that could cause complications. Still, patients need to be aware of the risks before moving forward with surgery.
About Dr. Smith
Dr. Erin Smith is a dedicated, board-eligible facial plastic surgeon with a track record of success. She emphasizes natural-looking results and is experienced in performing complex procedures including facial nerve surgery.
Patients in the Austin area and beyond choose Dr. Smith for her years of education and experience, reputation, glowing patient reviews, and specialization. Dr. Smith is an expert in the head and neck anatomy, allowing her to focus her time and energy on the complexity and demanding surgical procedures. Patients who need facial nerve surgery will have peace of mind knowing that Dr. Smith continues to seek out new knowledge and is constantly enhancing and updating her skills.
Bell’s Palsy Frequently Asked Questions
Many patients gradually recover strength and muscle movement within six months. However, some complications can remain, and a few patients continue to experience the symptoms of Bell’s palsy after this time. Rarely, the condition can reoccur later on.
Because it tends to resolve on its own, treatments are generally limited to therapies that help patients recover more quickly. Medication can reduce inflammation of the cranial nerve and physical therapy, often combined with Botox injections, can help to restore facial movement and control unwanted muscle contractions that may occur.
Once the patient’s facial nerve has recovered, facial reanimation surgery may be performed, if necessary. Not all patients will need surgery, but it is an option in some cases and can help patients look and feel more normal.
Bell’s palsy often resolves on its own and does not often reoccur. You should talk with your doctor about treatment options and the timeline of the condition before pursuing cosmetic treatments. It’s usually best to wait on surgery until you have given the issue time to resolve on its own. Botox might be a possible cosmetic treatment option in the meantime.
Yes, although it is not common. Most patients with Bell’s palsy are adults or teens. However, people of all ages can be affected by Bell’s palsy.
It all depends on the extent of the surgery. Some people are back to work and other activities within a few days. Others need a month or more of recovery time. It’s important to refrain from exercise and other strenuous activities during the first few weeks after surgery.
During your recovery, you should follow all of Dr. Smith’s instructions carefully. This will help to ensure good results and reduce the risk of infection, poor healing, and other complications. Most patients are very happy with their results and feel that the surgery and recovery are worth the outcome.
Yes, although it is rare. Most people recover within six months and never have to deal with Bell’s palsy again.
Your Options for Bell’s Palsy Treatments
If you need facial reconstruction after Bell’s palsy, Dr. Smith can help. She will evaluate you during a private consultation and walk you through all of your options for cosmetic and functional improvement.
To schedule a Bell’s palsy facial reanimation consultation at Buckingham Center in Austin, Texas, call our offices today at 512.401.2500. Our friendly staff is standing by to guide you through the process.