LIFESTYLE

Scarlett Moffatt's Battle With Bell's Palsy: Symptoms, Treatment And Causes Explained

The star cannot close her left eye.

18/11/2016 15:15

Gogglebox star Scarlett Moffatt has been ruled out of some Bushtucker Trials on ‘I’m A Celebrity’ because she suffers from facial paralysis. 

The 25-year-old is unable to completely close her left eye, The Mirror reported, as she suffers from Bell’s palsy - and has done since she was 11 years old. 

Moffatt developed the condition after she was hit by a car in her youth. She said she first noticed something was wrong when her mouth began drooping while she was performing for her mum and dad at their family home. 

“My eye dropped, I couldn’t speak properly, I got all slurred, and my mum and dad thought I was putting it on,” she recalled.

“I was screaming so loud to try to get my mouth to go straight. I burst into tears and then they realised. It was awful.”

Mark Robert Milan via Getty Images
Scarlett Moffatt

So What Is Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s palsy is a rare condition that affects about one in 5,000 people a year, according to the NHS.

It’s most common in men and women aged 15-60 years old, but people outside of this age group can also suffer from it. 

It is thought that the condition occurs when the nerve that controls the muscles in a person’s face becomes compressed. 

“The exact cause is unknown, although it’s thought to be because the facial nerve becomes inflamed, possibly due to a viral infection,” reads the NHS website.

“Bell’s palsy in itself is not a serious condition but because it affects the face, usually down one side, it is highly visible and this can impact the sufferer from a psychological perspective,” said Dr Helen Webberley, GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy.

Symptoms 

The symptoms of Bell’s palsy can vary from person-to-person. Most develop quickly, reach their peak within 48 hours and tend to improve within two to three weeks. 

While many people make a full recovery within nine months, in some cases, like Moffatt’s, the condition can resurface over time. 

Here are some of the key symptoms associated with the condition: 

  • Weakness or paralysis in one side of the face, which may make it difficult to close the eyelid and cause the side of the mouth to droop.
  • Irritation of the affected eye, such as dryness or increased tear production.
  • Earache or pain underneath the ear on the affected side of the face.
  • An altered or reduced sense of taste.
  • Increased sensitivity to sound in the affected ear.
  • Drooling from the mouth on the affected side of the face.
  • Dryness of the mouth.
  • Pain around the jaw.
  • Headache.
  • Ringing in one or both ears.
  • Dizziness.
  • Difficulty eating or drinking.
  • Impaired speech.

Diagnosis

There is no specific test to diagnose Bell’s palsy, however tests can be used to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms - such as stroke.

Studies show that treatment for Bell’s palsy is most effective if started quickly, within 72 hours of symptoms developing.

To help diagnose the condition, doctors examine the head, ears and neck, while also checking the muscles in the face to determine whether it’s only the facial nerve that is affected. 

If the doctor is unable to find evidence of symptoms associated with other conditions, like stroke or a tumour, Bell’s palsy may be diagnosed.

If they’re unsure, they may send patients to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for further testing.

The ENT specialist may give the patient electromyography - used to assess the extent of any nerve damage - or an imaging scan, which can help determine the cause of pressure on the facial nerve. 

Treatment

According to the NHS, prednisolone (a corticosteroid) is recommended as the most effective treatment for Bell’s palsy and should be started within 72 hours of the symptoms appearing.

“Antiviral medications are not recommended as a treatment for Bell’s palsy,” adds the website.

Dr Webberley concluded: “Most cases improve with time and disappear altogether, though this is not always the case and in some instances the effects can be long lasting, as with Scarlett being unable to close one eye fully.”

If you experience sudden facial paralysis, you should visit your nearest A&E department immediately or call 999 for an ambulance as it is important to see a doctor to determine the cause.

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