Recurring Bell’s Palsy?

A week ago, I was eating breakfast and tried to smile.  Something didn’t feel right; the right side of my face didn’t respond normally.  My mouth wouldn’t pull up into a smile completely.  I had movement–I could blink and I could move my cheek and mouth muscles somewhat, but there was definite muscle weakness.

I already knew/know it’s not stroke; the muscle weakness is limited to my face.  Language, math, and perception centers of my brain were all functioning pretty normally except for taste.  About a week earlier (two weeks ago now), I stopped being able to taste on the right side of my tongue.

The last time something like this occurred was 12 years ago when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy.  At that time, I had 100% paralysis on the right side of my face: no blinking, no mouth movement, no muscle tone, nothing.  The first symptom back then was also loss of taste on half my tongue, but it progressed to paralysis overnight.

I went to urgent care and there are some things that are not consistent with Bell’s Palsy: the weakness versus paralysis and the rate of progression.  I have full or nearly full control of my forehead and eye muscles, so the right lower quadrant of my face is most affected.  Bell’s Palsy recurrences are not common, either; estimates show them at < 10% (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3362016).  There are some things that are consistent with Bell’s Palsy: the radiating pain along my right cheekbone, loss of taste on one side, reduced tearing in my right eye, and it’s on the same side that was affected before.

The typical treatment is prednisone + antiviral medications.  I’m now finishing my 2nd round of high-dose prednisone this year–and I ache all over!  That will fade.  I have an appointment with a neurologist in 2 weeks to try to determine what is the most likely explanation–additional diagnostic tests are likely to be needed in this case.  In the meantime, we’ve done the best treatment we can if it IS Bell’s Palsy.  If not, at least my face isn’t getting worse, though the muscles DO fatigue easily when chewing dinner (and I have to chew on my left side if I want to taste anything).

The worst parts of having Bell’s Palsy before were not being able to blink or to stop drooling–I’m not suffering either of those.  However, I can’t puff up my cheeks with air.  I just make fart noises.  It makes me laugh.

I’ve heard that a lot of people who have Bell’s Palsy are too upset to go out in public. I seriously doubt anyone would notice that there’s any problem.  I don’t look like my face is melting off.  Therefore, whatever this is, for now, I can deal with it.

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