Also known as idiopathic facial palsy, Bell’s palsy is usually a temporary condition that involves the facial nerve, the 7th cranial nerve. It affects people all over the world and can develop at all ages. Symptoms tend to appear over a period of a few days and can improve after only a few weeks. Most patients who develop Bell’s palsy regain complete facial function within six months. Although Bell’s palsy seems like it has a fast recovery and has no serious threat to the patient, it is frustrating, somewhat distressing, and may result in long-term symptoms/deficits. Since Bell’s Palsy involves swelling of the facial nerve and hyperbaric oxygen treatment is one of the most effective therapies for swelling in any location in the body HBOT for Bell’s palsy makes good sense.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
The word “palsy” means paralysis. Patients who develop Bell’s palsy are easy to identify, as the muscles and facial nerve on one side of the face develop paralysis or become extremely weak. This can be seen through drooping eyebrows, cheeks, and mouth, but a raised upper eyelid. The facial nerve is responsible for closing the eye (upper eyelid going down, like pulling a window shade down), When the facial nerve is not working the eye remains wide open. In rare circumstances, both sides of the face can be affected, but for most patients it occurs only on one side. Bell’s palsy leads to other symptoms like drooling, pain in the face, increased sensitivity, headaches, loss of taste or smell, and changes in tear or saliva production. Some of these findings can be managed with medications, but medications don’t always restore facial muscle function. There are treatments available for after-care, but some of these take a long time to work, may not work at all, or are invasive.
Cause of Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy occurs when the cranial/facial nerve becomes swollen and inflamed. The facial nerve travels through a very small hole in the skull. If the nerve becomes swollen, the opening in the skull acts like a ring on a swollen finger. The nerve becomes compressed restricting the blood and oxygen flow. When this occurs, the facial nerve and muscles cannot function properly. Over time, the cranial nerve will become less inflamed and the nerve can regain function, but it may take time to heal the injured parts of the nerve. If the swelling and pressure were too great and the blood flow and oxygen delivery too low permanent damage to the nerve can occur. It is not entirely known why Bell’s palsy occurs, but it is associated with viral infection, including herpes, chicken pox, Epstein-Barr, Rubella, Mumps, Flu, and hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment of Bell’s Palsy
HBOT is beneficial in many different acute nervous system conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, birth injury, sudden deafness, sudden blindness, and others. Bell’s Palsy is no different. In many of these acute conditions HBOT’s benefit is caused by a reduction in swelling. This is also true in Bell’s Palsy. Even small reductions in swelling can decrease the pressure on the nerve and improve blood flow and oxygen delivery. If damage to the nerve has already occurred hyperbaric oxygen therapy’s wound healing effects speed healing of the wounded nerve by inhibiting inflammation and stimulating repair. By helping the facial nerve heal much faster, long-term functional and cosmetic consequences are lessened. Patients have a more normal smile, their upper eyelid works better, drooling, decreased taste, and other deficits can be minimized, and patients don’t have to wait six months for spontaneous recovery.
The Benefit of HBOT for Bell’s Palsy
The current common treatment for Bell’s palsy includes pain relieving medicines and anti-inflammatory medications like Prednisone. While these appear to have benefits, HBOT gives an extra boost to these therapies by treating the underlying disease processes that are responsible for the signs and symptoms. Essentially, HBOT is not only treating symptoms, but the cause of Bell’s Palsy at the tissue level in the nerve. In addition, HBOT treats any residual nerve damage, something medications are unable to do. Both the reduction in swelling and accelerated repair of the facial nerve result in less nerve damage and a decreased need for physical and restorative therapies (surgeries).
An additional benefit of HBOT for Bell’s palsy is that the overall healing time drops significantly, meaning less discomfort, facial distortion, and a faster return to wellbeing. Patients of all ages can safely receive hyperbaric oxygen treatment for Bell’s palsy; complications and side effects are rare. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment of Bell’s palsy is a clear choice because of the ease of treatment, improvement of symptoms, and faster healing and recovery.