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On Bell's Palsy

By Hilary Lai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Bell's Palsy is the most common form of facial paralysis. A stroke patient or someone with a brain tumor can have facial paralysis, as opposed to someone with Bell's Palsy, which is caused by a virus or inflammation of the facial nerve.

Bell’s Palsy is often associated with the reactivation of a virus known to cause cold sores (Herpes Simplex Virus). The swelling prevents the nerve from sending correct signals to the brain, thus resulting in paralysis. Bell’s Palsy has a quick onset. Patients can begin to feel tight and soreness behind the ear and on the neck, with symptoms and paralysis setting in as quickly as 48 hours. Symptoms include drooling while drinking, numbness of the tongue and an inability to smile or wink. Some cannot close their eye properly, which leads to dry eye and irritation.

My mentor, Dr. Borui Zhang of The First Teaching Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China, said young women with Bell's Palsy who didn't recover well often would end up with depression. They tend to develop social anxiety and lack of confidence because of a deviated mouth and deformed face. Sequelae (lingering effects) of Bell’s Palsy can include deviation of the non-effected side, twitching and involuntary movement of the face. For patients in China with severe facial paralysis, we would conduct a facial electromyography (fEMG) to measure the damage of the facial nerve; from there, we could predict the prognosis.


Steroids and anti-viral medicines are common medical solutions. For those that choose to avoid medicines, acupuncture can be very effective. It helps to promote circulation, reduce swelling, calm inflammation and rejuvenate the affected facial nerve that caused the paralysis. It is a very effective treatment for peripheral facial paralysis.

Bell's Palsy

Photo Credit: Mayo Clinic

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