Various medical conditions can cause facial nerve damage, resulting in a range of symptoms developing. Facial nerve damage leads to muscles in the face becoming weak; speech problems are also common. Other signs of facial nerve damage include headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of some senses and dry eyes.
What Does the Facial Nerve do?
The facial nerve is the seventh cranial nerve and has many important functions. As well as regulating facial expressions, the nerve also controls sensations. The facial nerve enables your tongue to taste flavors when you’re eating or drinking.
Additionally, the facial nerve helps the glands in the mouth, eyes and nose to function correctly. These glands help you to produce saliva; they keep your eyes moist too, stopping them from becoming dry.
Medical conditions such as stroke, Bell’s palsy, head or neck tumors and Lyme disease can all cause damage to the facial nerve.
Government statistics have recorded that, in the US, someone suffers a stroke every 40 seconds. An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot which deprives the brain cells of vital oxygen which can damage the facial nerve. The result of this is weakness in the face; speech is also likely to be affected.
A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding, when one or more blood vessels in the brain bursts. The leaking blood kills off brain cells and this, in turn, can cause damage to the facial nerve. The bleeding also harms brain tissue which could affect the facial nerve in some cases too.
Symptoms of stroke include:
- Weakness in the face
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Loss of balance
Bell’s palsy can cause damage to the facial nerve, resulting in weakness in the muscles and paralysis of the face. Despite extensive medical research, scientists are still not sure what causes Bell’s palsy. Many doctors believe that the condition is a result of inflammation or a virus which disrupts the function of the facial nerve.
The good news is that most people with Bell’s palsy will recover with little or no medical treatment. In some cases, a doctor will prescribe medication to reduce the inflammation of the facial nerve. Physiotherapy is also an effective way to help a patient recover from the symptoms of Bell’s palsy.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy include:
- Facial paralysis
- Facial muscle weakness
- Loss of taste and smell
- Dry eyes
A head, neck or facial nerve tumor can also cause facial nerve damage. Although most tumors are benign, they can still cause problems such as twitching, facial weakness, headaches, nausea and dizziness. When the tumor is putting pressure on the facial nerve, it can become damaged.
The symptoms associated with tumors usually develop slowly over a period of weeks and months. If a tumor is not malignant and is not causing the patient too many problems, it can be treated with radiation. In more severe cases, surgery will be required to remove the tumor. However, this can also cause further damage to the facial nerve.
Symptoms of tumors include:
- Mild to severe headaches
- Balance defects
- Facial twitches
- Muscle weakness
Lyme disease can also cause facial nerve damage in some people. Lyme disease is transmitted to humans after they are bitten by infected ticks. If the disease is left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Skin rashes
The facial nerve can also be damaged due to trauma sustained in an injury or during surgery. Blunt or penetrating trauma to the neck or head, caused by an accident or as a result of surgery, can damage the facial nerve. Facial nerve trauma leads to muscle weakness in the face, hearing loss and headaches.
Who Suffers Facial Nerve Damage?
People of all ages are susceptible to facial nerve damage; even newborn babies can suffer minor problems. If the birth is traumatic, the facial nerve can be injured due to lack of oxygen to the brain or trauma. Pressure on a newborn baby’s skull or neck during a natural birth can also damage the facial nerve.
Adults also suffer facial nerve damage due to developing a medical condition or following trauma. Adults of all ages and fitness levels can suffer strokes or could develop Bell’s palsy. People of all ages also suffer facial nerve damage following an injury or surgery.
How is Facial Nerve Damage Diagnosed and Treated?
If you have any symptoms you should consult a doctor at the earliest opportunity. The doctor will carry out a series of simple tests to identify the root cause of the problem. You may also need to have some blood tests and scans to determine the actual cause of the facial nerve damage.
When the doctor has identified the cause of the facial nerve damage, you will be offered an appropriate course of treatment. Surgery is always a last resort. The majority of facial nerve damage is treated with rest, medication or physiotherapy.
Is Facial Nerve Damage Permanent?
In most cases, facial nerve damage is not permanent; the symptoms will subside over a short period of time. The symptoms may take longer to subside if antiviral or anti-inflammatory medication is used. Generally, the damage is only permanent and untreatable following a severe stroke or surgical damage to the facial nerve.
So, it’s not all bad news. Most facial nerve damage will heal with treatment from your doctor or, in some cases, without any medical intervention at all. Only rarely will the facial nerve damage be permanent and irreversible.
You can take some easy steps to minimize the chances of suffering many of the medical conditions which can cause facial nerve damage. If you are fit, healthy and have regular medical checkups, you will be less likely to experience facial nerve damage.