Bell’s Palsy: Symptoms, Treatment And Causes Explained

It affects one in 5,000 people each year.

Angelina Jolie has opened up about being diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, shortly after filing for divorce from Brad Pitt.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Jolie revealed she developed the condition as a result of damage to her facial nerves, which caused one side of her face to droop. She also suffered with high blood pressure.

The 42-year-old credits acupuncture for helping her recover from the condition.

Harold Cunningham via Getty Images

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.


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, 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.


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.


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.”

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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