Under Pressure: Bell's palsy triggered by stress


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Stress can lead to disease in the body. This is an undeniable fact. Recently, I experienced sickness related to increased stress in my life. I had facial paralysis and at the tender age of 35 I believed I had a stroke because of the initial symptoms I noticed. I was not, however, having a stroke. I was experiencing a stress related disease, Bell's palsy.

Bell's palsy is a disruption of function of the cranial nerve. The cranial nerve controls facial movement. An untrained eye would view the symptoms of Bell's palsy as a stroke. The face doesn't respond in a normal way. The mouth does not like to smile. The eyebrow does not lift. And eyes doe not blink. The blinking eyelid protects the cornea from damage. The eye lid drops and captures moisture while preventing debris from entering the eye.

When a patient has Bell's palsy it is essential to use eye drops and cover the eye with an eye patch when sleeping. Doctors know that a patient is having an episode of Bell's palsy by ruling out stroke through a series of tests.

The main difference between Bell's palsy and stroke is that a stroke patient can still control the upper part of their face. Stroke patients will also show some weakness in function. So testing will show that a person is unable to lift or push or their reflexes won't respond when they have had a stroke.

The main topic of discussion with a doctor who has ruled out stroke is what type of stress you have in your life. I found after talking to multiple doctors they all wanted to know whether I was recently going through stressful events. I work in an emergency department and I am personally constantly busy. My answer was a resounding yes to all three doctors and the nurse who asked me the same thing. Apparently, the more stressed you are the weaker your immune system and also the less functional your body systems are. The damage to the seventh cranial nerve that causes the facial paralysis is not permanent and Bell's palsy will eventually go away within six weeks. However, to speed healing doctors prescribe a steroid, prednisone. This should shorten healing time. When I had Bell's palsy my healing occurred in a two-week period with the help of a prednisone treatment.

Recommendations from the emergency doctors also included lifestyle changes for stress reduction and a suggestion that I take vitamins. Minor changes to reduce stress and build the immune system are worth being able to eat and drink without food and liquids falling out of your mouth. The only time an adult should desire to wear an eye patch is at Halloween. Wearing that patch nightly to protect your eyes from damage is a chore in itself.

Having Bell's palsy is not an experience anyone wants to have. Your stress manifesting itself on your face makes all of your problems and your pain truly visible to others. Your face appears disfigured because you can't smile. And people notice your odd appearance. If you can do yourself any favors in this life, avoid letting stress have a weighted effect on your health. Eliminating stress is a choice of how you will handle triggers in your life.

If something triggers anxiety do not deal with it or handle it a different way so that it does not make you physically sick.

Angelic Jones is a freelance writer and book reviewer for Austin Weekly News.

CONTACT: ajoneswrites4u@excite.com

Reader Comments

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Olowo Godstime from NYC  

Posted: July 18th, 2019 2:45 AM

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Louise Saxon from Austin  

Posted: June 21st, 2019 7:05 AM

Even though my struggle with Bell's Palsy has been quite unpleasant, it did get me to an ER in the wee hours of October 7th, 2018. I, too, thought I was having a stroke. No, it was only Bell's, but I also learned that I had a stage IIA lymphoma. The Bell's begin to abate in about five months. I should mention that I'm 81 years old. Now, in late June, there has been more improvement. I'm growing accustomed to the new normal. And, I'm still working on the cancer. Maybe Bell's Palsy was my 'gift horse,' but it takes very different turns with each patient.

Bill Aslaksen from Acton, CA  

Posted: January 25th, 2019 3:30 PM

1st time I had BP I was in the Army and yes there was some stress. 2nd time I was about to get out of the Army it was a cold winter and there was stress. Dr. told me Truck Drivers used to get it frequently from leaving the window open while driving in very cold weather. I used to sit in the barracks where it wa 3 degrees outside but 90 degrees inside (hot water radiator heat) so I would have the window on my left side open. 5 years later going through a divorce and child separation - more stress (did I mention I worked as an Air Traffic Controller?) Teatime it went away in 6 weeks. Now 35 years later after a really bad cold and some stress, it seems to have returned. Stress is the common factor in all cases. The 1984 occurrence left some residual that had the unpleasant reaction of causing people to mis-read my facial expressions. A smile would come across as a smirk and some people acted hostile toward me because they thought I was doing the same to them. It was frustrating and when you talk to someone totally ignorant about this condition - they stemlike they don't believe you. Caused me some serious problems especially later in my career. Now I'm retired and I can stay indoors until it's over - I just hope I don't end up like Ralph Nader.

Anna Torges Stuart  

Posted: August 15th, 2018 11:14 PM

PLEASE correct your information stating that Bell's Palsy will go away within six weeks. This is simply not true and for most people it lasts considerably longer. Please remove your uneducated statement as it will cause people who have not recovered by six weeks further stress. Thank you.

Mary Jean Erb from Venice, FL  

Posted: August 14th, 2018 10:49 AM

Bell's Palsey does NOT usually go away. It lasts for years. My son and nephew (both in their early 20s at the time) were diagnosed more than 5 years ago. Their doctors told them it would go away eventually. It is "better" for both, but neither smiles like they used to, and my son, especially, has trouble keeping his eye open. There seems to be no way to change this.

Debra Wheeler from Winlock  

Posted: May 28th, 2018 10:35 AM

I wanted to add that my research led me to know I had BP after I was tested for any heart related issues. What I found out is that I didn't trust any drug because of too many conflicting diagnosis. I resolved to healing without intervention. From what I can tell drugs do not heal stress. The nerve needs to heal on its own. I have not allowed a physician to treat me. The stories out there are horrifying to say the least from brain surgery to facial reconstruction. No thanks. I would prefer to look like this than to allow myself to be given treatments which are administered without factual research.

Debra Wheeler from Winlock  

Posted: May 28th, 2018 10:15 AM

I've had BP for approx 6 yrs. My research is continuing. I grinded my teeth prior to getting BP. About a year ago a major break through happened. My nerve back fired and now I look worse. I purchased a facialflex device to see if exercise can help as well. I think I am getti g better managing my stress and I am learning to eat a vegan diet. I do feel better. Your comments are important to me.

Anna Torges Stuart  

Posted: May 17th, 2018 3:25 PM

Please consider revising your article. There are glaring issues with it. Bell's Palsy resolves completely for the majority of those who've suffered it, but for 10-20% of sufferers there are residuals. Based on what you've written, everyone recovers within 6 weeks to 2 months. This just isn't true and hearing this would upset someone may be a few months post onset who will continue to heal. Those who've suffered the ill effects of BP need to understand there are therapies and lots of help if you haven't recovered in the short time frame you've mentioned; the facial nerve (seventh nerve) continues to heal and improve for three years without any intervention whatsoever. Please, please do some research and rewrite this article to provide better information for those suffering. Those who've been inflicted with this shouldn't read your (mis)information and feel disheartened. Thank you.

Gloria Skaggs from Houston  

Posted: January 3rd, 2017 5:12 PM

Caring for 2 elderly aunts and then having to mange their estates put me under a lot of stress for 2 years and then Bell's Palsy struck. I've had it for over a year and a half. Highly recommend applying Arnica gel or peppermint oil to the face. Take a complete vitamin B complex supplement & MSM mixed in water with some lemon juice every day. I've also added passion flower and even though it's been over 18 months, I am seeing improvement in my facial strength. At times, I can even raise my eyebrow and the swelling in my cheek and eyelids is beginning to subside. I can even put mascara on my lashes without it getting on my upper lid. The corner of my mouth is still weak but I am exercising it by making faces and saying silly sentences like "baby blue buggy bumper" to strengthen nerves above my lip which is still swollen . Also, chewing on the weak side is helping strengthen muscles. Also suggest massages and acupuncture with nerve stimulation which is painful but has helped. None of my physicians even suggested any of the above therapies. A lady at the health food store told me she had gotten BP and suggested the herbal supplements. Her BP went away completely so I figured I didn't have anything to lose by trying it. Good luck to everyone and wish you a speedier recovery.

Matt Bellinger  

Posted: October 27th, 2016 1:43 PM

Stress can bring on a lot. They say it doesn't really cause anything but exacerbates anything and everything. I found that a great way to deal is to put a smile on your face. Have you ever tried to fell bad with a smile on?

Kim Roberts from kansas  

Posted: May 19th, 2016 6:19 PM

I got bells palsy 6 weeks after I lost my mom. That was 8 years ago and I still have it. :'(

Michelle from reno  

Posted: March 8th, 2016 11:13 AM

There is evidence that the herpes virus may be responsible for causing BP. I know I had a small cold sore on my lip and an achy feeling behind my ear and extending to the gland under my jaw when my BP happened. The herpes virus lives dormant in one's spine until stress brings it on. I rarely get cold sores nowadays, but stress is a big factor when I do. I believe this particular time the virus may have affected the 7th cranial nerve, as BP does, and manifested itself this way. Stress! Yes!

Tracy beauchamp from Twickenham  

Posted: November 19th, 2015 4:52 PM

I have now had Bell's palsy 4 times and I do believe all my attacks are due to stress. I was told at a & e when I had my 2nd attack that it was very uncommon to have Bell's palsy twice. My attacks have been 10 to 13 years apart, but the last 2 attacks have been 11 months apart. I have been suffering with this horrible problem since the age of 23. If stress is the cause it's the last thing you need as looking and feeling completely abnormal just adds to your stress.

Susan H from Wasilla  

Posted: September 15th, 2015 11:32 AM

I'm starting to realize that stress may have caused mine as well. I have had Bells for 9 weeks today. It is partially getting better but my eye is really giving me problems. I also have had quite a bit of nerve pain in my neck and have to take Neurontin. Having this has put a hold on making things better in my life. I feel completely stuck.

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