Bell's palsy is a weakness or paralysis of a facial nerve. Nerves on each side of your child’s face control movement of the muscles on that side. When a facial nerve is weak or paralyzed, that side of the face droops and it may be hard for your child to smile or close the eye on that side. The severity of Bell's palsy can vary from mild weakness to complete paralysis of one side of the face.
One possible cause is infection with the virus that causes cold sores. The body’s immune reaction to this virus can cause swelling or irritation that damages the facial nerve. When this happens, the nerve can no longer control the facial muscles. The muscles get weak and you lose part or all control of the muscles for weeks or months until the nerve heals.
The first symptom may be an ache behind the ear. Then that side of the face will become weak or paralyzed.
Other symptoms may include:
Symptoms may develop within a few hours or over a couple of days. The faster the symptoms happen, the more severe the weakness or paralysis is likely to be.
Although rare in children, get help from a healthcare provider right away if your child's symptoms develop quickly--for example, in 30 to 60 minutes. Your provider will want to make sure that your child is not having a stroke.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have tests or scans to check for other possible causes of the symptoms, such as an infection or a tumor.
If your child’s symptoms are mild, your child may not need treatment. Symptoms will start to go away on their own within a few weeks even without medicine. If your child’s symptoms are more severe, your provider may prescribe steroid medicine and may also prescribe antiviral medicine. Steroid medicines have been shown to help adults recover from Bell’s palsy.
Give your child steroid medicine exactly as prescribed. Your child should not take more or less of the medicine than prescribed by your provider and should not take it longer than prescribed. Your child should not stop taking a steroid without your provider's approval. The dosage may need to be lowered slowly before stopping it.
Physical therapy, including exercises and massage, may help your child keep some muscle strength and keep the facial muscles flexible until the symptoms go away.
If your child’s eye does not close completely, it needs to be protected from problems such as dust and dryness. Patching the eye or using eye drops or eye ointments can protect the eye. If the eye is not protected, your child could lose vision in that eye.
If, despite the weakness, your child still has at least some muscle movement, your child has a good chance for a complete recovery. If your child has complete paralysis (no movement of the facial muscles at all), your child will probably not get back full muscle movement.
Bell's palsy can last several weeks even when it’s mild. It may be months before you know how much muscle control your child will get back.
It’s rare to have Bell's palsy more than once. If your child has facial paralysis again, another problem may be causing it and your child should be checked right away by your healthcare provider.