The Symptoms of Bells Palsy
By Rob Wilkinson

One of the things that sets Bell’s Palsy apart from other types of facial paralysis is the speed with which it appears.

Usually people wake up one morning and they have it. Sometimes a slight symptom may be noticed the night before and within the same 24 hours all the symptoms have been manifested.

It can, however, take longer. From a day to a few days, as did my experience. This can be very worrying because one wonders, or more accurately, panics, about what is going to happen next.

The main thing to remember is that this will only affect your face as that is the only purpose of the 7th cranial nerve and that is the only thing that has been affected.

It IS going to stop, which was my major worry especially as it started to go down the other side of my face (a very rare occurrence).

Remember - it is the 7th cranial nerve that is struggling, not anything else. This point is well worth reminding yourself of, very often at first.

So what does, or will, your Bell’s Palsy actually look like?

We will concentrate upon physical symptoms here. I deal with psychological symptoms throughout the book where relevant.

This is a list of the common physical symptoms with which I have included others that I either had or felt that I had. These are not exhaustible lists and you may or may not get some or all of them.

I have found that just to know that a symptom is possible and has happened to others and is therefore nothing to worry about, is in itself very helpful.

Most common symptoms of unilateral Bell’s Palsy.


  • Facial muscle weakness or a paralysis of the facial muscles giving an overall droopy appearance on one side of the face.
  • Wrinkling of the skin disappears (ironically you will be so happy as they start to come back)
  • An inability to completely close the eye on the side of the paralysis
  • A constantly watery eye or a constantly dry eye due to the above.
  • Lower eyelid extremely drooped, allowing more of the eye surface to be exposed to dust, dirt and water.
  • A particular sensitivity to light probably due to the fact that you cannot close one of your eyes completely.
  • Teeth pains (unlike toothache more as if the teeth on the affected side of your face have been frozen into one block – with myself this passed within a few days and was odd rather than truly painful)
  • Your nose may run more than normal or feel constantly blocked.
  • Difficulty speaking in the same way as you normally do
  • Difficulty eating and drinking (you can eat and drink, it is just very different)
  • Sensitivity to sound in one ear
  • A feeling of your ear being blocked upon facial movement when facial movement starts to return
  • Pain in or near the ear
  • Difficulty closing your mouth properly.
  • A drooping bottom lip (especially in Bilateral Bell’s Palsy)
  • A constant thirst due to the above and your saliva glands or, an overactive saliva gland making you dribble because of the above
  • An inability to whistle
  • Facial swelling or a feeling that your face or parts of it are swollen
  • Diminished or distorted taste
  • Inability to raise the eyebrow on the affected side
  • A distorted looking face when expressions are made with the good side of the face and when
  • speaking
  • Slight feelings of being off balance, slightly dizzy or giddy (this can usually be associated with the stress of the event (hypervigilance), but may also be a slight giddiness as you get used to the fact that one side of your face feels different to the other)
  • Chronic tiredness as would be associated with having a virus (this goes incrementally, the more rest that you give yourself)
  • As things start to improve you may feel either a tingling or slight pain, or experience twitching before that muscle “wakes up” and starts to work again. I must warn you here that sometimes they can wake up and then go back to sleep which is very upsetting (they do awake again though usually) Believe me, as ridiculous as this sounds, it is one of the most wonderful experiences in this whole event when you get a new “twitch”.

To summarise all the above it is very difficult or impossible to show any facial expression including a smile on the affected side of your face.

The best way to describe how it feels is to remember when you have visited a dentist and they have “numbed” one side of your face. The reason that I put the word “numbed” thus, is that your skin does not actually go numb it just feels as though it should be.

The Symptoms of Bilateral Bell’s Palsy are some or all of the above, but on BOTH sides of the face. As you can read in the chapter “My Experience”, although the first side of my Bell’s Palsy manifested itself mainly within 24 - 48 hours, the second side was a more gradual process and took another 3 days to be fully manifested.

If you think that you are experiencing any of these please go back to your doctor and make him aware of your concerns.

If paralysis develops slowly, over more than a few days then go to your doctor and inform him of your concerns as this could be a different condition that could require different treatment tests for other causes of the paralysis.

If this is not the first time you have had Bell’s Palsy fret not. However, if it has only been a short time since your last experience then it would be better to have some further testing just to make sure that there is no other condition underlying that may be causing the attacks. Your doctor will most probably recommend this to you anyway.

Robert Wilkinson is the author of All Bells and No Whistle - the self help guide for living with and recovering from Bell's Palsy. He is currently writing his latest book on the subject of stress.

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