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Bell's Palsy

How Bell's Palsy Can Affect Your Eyes

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Updated May 13, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bell’s palsy is a temporary paralysis of the facial nerve that controls the muscles of the forehead, eyelid, face and neck. People who experience Bell’s palsy often head to the emergency room because they think they are having a stroke. The condition normally affects only one side of the face. People who suffer from Bell’s palsy may complain of a facial droop and pain or discomfort, and often notice symptoms in their eyes.

Eye-Related Symptoms of Bell's Palsy

Bell’s palsy can affect the muscles around the eye and the eyelid, sometimes preventing the eye from blinking properly. Because the eye is unable to blink normally, not enough tears are spread across the eye to keep it moist. The cornea becomes dehydrated and dry spots begin to form. The eye may become extremely dry and inflamed, often leading to exposure keratitis, a condition caused by the cornea constantly being exposed to the atmosphere.

Although most cases of Bell’s palsy last less than a month, the eye-related symptoms can be quite disruptive. You may experience sharp pains in your eye and blurred vision. Because the eyelid does not function correctly, your eye may not shut all of the way during sleep.

Eye Tips for Bell’s Palsy

If you think that you are experiencing symptoms of Bell's palsy, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you do experience a case of Bell's palsy, the following tips may help protect your eyes:

  • Instill lubricating artificial tears at least once per hour to keep your eyes moist.
  • If regular artificial tears do not bring relief, instill a thicker artificial tear or gel several times per day.
  • Instill an over-the-counter eye ointment inside the lower eyelid at night to protect your eye if it does not shut all the way.
  • Gently tape your eye shut with medical tape, or wear an eye patch to prevent air conditioning or ceiling fans from drying out your eye.

What You Need to Know

Consult an optometrist or an ophthalmologist during an episode of Bell's palsy, as exposure keratitis can create significant problems that require treatment. If the episode lasts longer than 4-5 weeks, your doctor may suggest applying a weight to your eyelid. An eyelid weight works with gravity to assist your eyelid with blinking to prevent drying.

Eye Treatment for Bell's Palsy

Although doctors are not all in agreement, the treatment of choice seems to be a course of oral anti-viral medication along with a short course of oral steroids. To be effective, these medications must be taken as soon as possible after diagnosis of a Bell's palsy episode.

Source:

Cullom, R and B Chang. The Wills Eye Manual, Office and Emergency Room Diagnosis and Treatment of Eye Disease, Second Edition, J.B. Lippincot Company, 1994.

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