In Contemporary western medicine, this is thought to be a disorder of the facial nerve which innervates all the facial muscles. Those who are affected have difficulty closing their eyes, or whistling. They also notice saliva drooling from one mouth angle due to weakness of facial muscles. Frequently, a viral etiology is cited. The vast majority of people with Bell's Palsy recover spontaneously within several weeks of onset of clinical manifestation.
Physicians usually prescribe prednisone, and sometimes an antiviral drug, but it is difficult to tell if these medications help or not. While most are reassured by their doctors that Bell's Palsy is self-limited and full recovery is expected, some unfortunately are left with minor facial weakness.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a different view and alternative treatment option. In TCM, energy and body fluid circulate within the energy channels, also known as meridians, to nourish the whole body. The stomach channel, and to a lesser extent, the large intestine and the gallbladder channels travel to the face. Bell's palsy is said to occur because of cold wind invading these facial channels, leading to energy blockage and facial weakness. Interestingly, if one takes a good history from these patients, many would give a story of having been exposed to cold wind.
Acupuncture to strengthen the stomach energy channel, and also to balance the liver channel (wind disorder in TCM is related to the liver channel) may help speed up the recovery.
The following is a simple success story. A twenty-two year old college graduate student noticed weakness of her right facial muscles of rather sudden onset. She started acupuncture treatment immediately and she had complete recovery after three acupuncture treatments in one week.
Many may raise the question: since Bell's Palsy is self-limited, how can we tell if acupuncture helps or is needed? Most patients I treated in the last ten years can tell immediate improvement in the strength of facial muscles after just one session. Given the fact that a small percentage are left with permanent facial weakness and facial asymmetry when they speak, I would advise initiating acupuncture treatment if recovery is slow within two weeks after the onset. In addition, traditional Chinese herbs in the form of mixture of a number of ingredients for warming and wind-dispersing purposes to improve blood circulation in the face may also help.