About 40,000 people in the United States develop facial paralysis each year with children comprising a small percentage of that population. There are more than 50 known causes of facial paralysis but the most common in children is “Bell’s palsy,” the cause of which is not certain. This disorder effects one side of the facial muscles due to dysfunction of the seventh cranial nerve, usually thought to stem from a viral infection; Bell’s palsy is found in 20 out of 100,000 Americans, with the incidence increasing with each decade of life.
In Bell’s palsy, facial paralysis results from damage (e.g., possibly from viral infection) to the facial nerve. Adults and children will either wake up to find they have facial paralysis or palsy, or have symptoms such as a dry eye or tingling around their lips that progress to Bell’s palsy during that same day. Occasionally symptoms may take a few days to progress to facial weakness or paralysis. Physical trauma to the head and neck region at birth and during childhood may cause facial paralysis. Other causes are:
Not all children react the same to this disorder. However, recorded symptoms include:
If infection is the cause, then an antibiotic to fight bacteria (as in middle ear infections) or antiviral agents (to fight syndromes caused by viruses like herpes zoster (Ramsay Hunt Syndrome) may be used. The prognosis for children with facial paralysis is generally very good. The extent of nerve damage determines the extent of recovery. With or without treatment, studies indicate that most pediatric patients with the disorder begin to get better within two weeks after the initial onset of symptoms and recover completely within three to six months. Adults may find residual symptoms remaining for an indefinite period of time.
After an examination, the otolaryngologist- head and neck surgeon may conduct a hearing test to determine if the cause of damage to the nerve has involved the hearing nerve, inner ear, or delicate hearing mechanism. Additional tests in the physician’s office include a balance test and a tear test, to measure the eye’s ability to produce tears. Eye drops may be necessary to prevent drying of the surface of the eye cornea. In some circumstances, the physician may recommend a CT (computerized tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test to determine if there is infection, tumor, bone fracture, or other abnormality in the area of the facial nerve. An additional diagnostic tool is the Electro neuronography (ENOG), which stimulates the facial nerve to assess how badly the nerve is damaged. This test may have to be repeated at frequent intervals to see if the disease is progressing.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Bell’s Palsy Research Foundation