There are no medications specifically approved to treat Bell's palsy. Underlying medical conditions that lead to facial nerve disorder are treated specifically according to the specific condition that is responsible for the damage to the nerve. Steroid medications (corticosteroids) are the best treatment for Bell's palsy, and it is recommended that all patients be treated. The usual amount is one milligram per kilogram body weight of prednisone (or steroid alternative) per day for 7 to 14 days. Recently, antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax) given in conjunction with steroids have been demonstrated to increase recovery. Doses of the antiviral agent will vary with the drug chosen.
Although physical therapy and electrotherapy probably have no significant benefit, facial exercises can help prevent contractures of affected muscles. Surgical facial nerve decompression is controversial in Bell's palsy. Some physicians recommend surgical decompression during the first two weeks in patients showing the most severe nerve degeneration; however, there can be a substantial risk of hearing loss with this surgery.
What is the treatment for eye problems from facial nerve disorder?
Patients with facial nerve paralysis have difficulty keeping their eye closed because the muscles which close the eye cannot work. Serious complications can occur if the cornea of the eye becomes too dry. Treatment consists of:
- protective glasses which can prevent dust from entering the eye;
- manual closure of the eye with a finger to keep it moist -- patients should use the back of their finger rather than the tip to insure that the eye is not injured;
- artificial tears or ointments to help keep the eye lubricated;
- taping or patching the eye closed with paper tape while asleep; and
- in cases in which recovery is incomplete, a temporary or permanent narrowing of the eye opening (tarsorrhaphy) may be necessary.
What surgical reconstruction options are available?
Reconstructive options for patients with facial muscle weakness or paralysis include one or more of the following:
- Nerve repair or nerve grafts: Facial nerve regeneration occurs at a rate of one millimeter per day. If a nerve has been cut or removed, direct microscopic repair is the best option.
- Nerve transposition: Often the tongue nerve (hypoglossal nerve) or the other facial nerve can be connected to the existing facial nerve. For example, the patient can then train themselves to move their face by moving their tongue.
- Muscle transposition or sling procedures: The temporalis muscle or masseter muscle (some of the only muscles on the face not supplied by the facial nerve), can be moved down and connected to the corner of the mouth to allow movement of the face.
- Muscle transfers: Free muscles from the leg (gracilis) can be used to provide both muscle bulk and function. Often a cross facial nerve transposition is done to provide similar nerve supply to the donor muscle flap.
- Ancillary eyelid or oral procedures: In addition to one of the above, often it is necessary to include a brow lift or facelift, partial lip resection, eyelid repositioning, lower eyelid shortening, upper eyelid weights, or eyelid springs in reconstructive surgery following severe facial nerve palsies.
What is the prognosis for facial nerve problems?
The prognosis for facial nerve damage depends on the underlying cause. Many patients who have required surgery to remove tumors may have unavoidable permanent injury to the facial nerve, whereas a majority of persons who experience Bell's palsy will have complete recovery. The best outcomes occur with rapid diagnosis and treatment.