Bell’s palsy

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Just imagine feeling strange and you see in the mirror the one side of your face is drooping.  The very first thought is: “I had a stroke.”

Bell’s palsy is classified as a relatively rare condition, and it is estimated that approximately 1 in 5000 people develop this condition each year.   Usually, it starts with your eye-watering excessively, and your nose running to the extent where you cannot stop it. 

According to Wikipedia, Bell’s palsy is a type of facial paralysis that results in an inability to control the facial muscles on the affected side. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. They may include muscle twitching, weakness, or total loss of the ability to move one or rarely both sides of the face.  This condition is also called idiopathic facial paralysis.

Rodney Matsilele (40, a security guard and resident in Sabie) were in grade 11 in Giyani, Limpopo, when the symptoms presented.  Realising that the one side of this face was paralyzed, he went to the government hospital in Elim.  The doctors were perplexed, and even examined his mouth and teeth, but could not diagnose him.

Years later, in 2010 Tembisa hospital in Gauteng diagnosed him with Bell’s palsy.   Rodney said that “it was hard in the beginning.  People did not understand my condition.  A lot of people ask me what is wrong, and I don’t mind telling them.  I am not ashamed of myself, because I received counselling at the hospital and learned that it does not define me. I want to encourage other people with disabilities to know who they are and not be ashamed.”

The facial nerve controls most of the muscles in the face and parts of the ear. It runs from the brain through a narrow gap in the bone behind the ear, controlled from the brain to the face on the opposite side. When the facial nerve is inflamed, it will swell and it pinches in the narrow gap. This can result in damage to the protective covering of the nerve. This causes the signals from the brain to the muscles in the face not to transmit properly, resulting in weakened or paralyzed facial muscles.  The exact reason why this happens is still unclear.

It may result when a virus, usually the herpes virus, inflames the nerve. This is the same virus that causes cold sores or genital herpes.

The condition more commonly affects:

  • People aged 15 to 60 years
  • Those with diabetes or upper respiratory diseases
  • Women during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester
  • Women who gave birth less than 1 week ago

Mostly when the proper treatment is given immediately after diagnosis, symptoms are only temporary.  Specialists call it the 33% disease.  33% are healed completely, 33% regain back some function of the facial muscles, and the other 33% face never recovers.

Editor’s note:  I also contracted Bell’s palsy in 2015, and were fortunate to be diagnosed correctly speedily.  I received daily therapeutic electrical stimulation at Sabie hospital.  It is a method whereby small electrodes are placed on certain points of the damaged muscles and then an electrical current “shocks” the muscle to regain function.  It was a very emotional rollercoaster ride for about four months.  Fortunately, I have been healed completely.

Caption:  Rodney Matsilele, a Bell’s palsy sufferer.

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