Bell's palsy

Bell's palsy is temporary weakness or lack of movement affecting one side of the face. Most people get better within 9 months.

See a GP if you have:

  • weakness or total paralysis on one side of your face that develops within 2 days
  • drooping eyelid or corner of the mouth
  • drooling
  • dry mouth
  • loss of taste
  • eye irritation, such as dryness or more tears

It's important to see a GP as soon as possible after developing these symptoms because treatment for Bell's palsy is more effective if started early (within 72 hours).

Call 999 if the:

  • face droops on one side (the mouth or eye may have drooped)
  • person can't lift up both arms and keep them there
  • person has difficulty speaking (speech may be slurred or garbled)

These can be signs of a more serious condition, like a stroke. Unlike Bell's palsy, the symptoms of a stroke usually come on suddenly.

Treatment from your GP

Treatments for Bell's palsy include:

  • a 10-day course of steroid medication
  • eyedrops and eye ointment to stop the affected eye drying out
  • surgical tape to keep the eye closed at bedtime

Your GP might prescribe a type of steroid called prednisolone. Treatment with prednisolone should begin within 3 days (72 hours) of the symptoms starting.

Bell's palsy is rare in children, and most children who are affected make a full recovery without treatment.

How long Bell's palsy lasts

Most people make a full recovery within 9 months, but it can take longer. In a small number of cases, the facial weakness can be permanent.

Go back to see your GP if you have facial weakness or paralysis after 6 to 9 months. Surgery might be a possible treatment option.

You can't prevent Bell's palsy

Because it's probably caused by an infection, Bell's palsy can't be prevented. It may be linked to the herpes virus.

You'll usually only get Bell's palsy once, but it can sometimes come back. This is more likely if you have a family history of the condition.

Page last reviewed: 01/08/2017
Next review due: 01/08/2020

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