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Bell’s palsy: Ringing in relief through holistic ways

Bell’s palsy: Ringing in relief through holistic ways

While what causes Bell’s palsy is unknown, use of modern medicine along with holistic approaches could offer quick relief
Bell's Palsy
Bell’s Palsy can be managed by holistic methods | Illustration by Syalima Das

I was unaware of my condition until my sister noticed that the left half of my face had begun to droop,” Hema Shivaji Manthale, 34, from Latur, Maharashtra, tells Happiest Health. 

Manthale’s concern escalated when the drooping affected her speech, eating, and drinking. For example, the water she drank would dribble out from the left side of her mouth.  

As the wife of a soldier and often the only one to take care of her two children, Manthale worried that the condition would become a permanent disability. Therefore, she rushed to a neurologist, who diagnosed her with Bell’s palsy – a condition where a part of the face gets paralysed.  

The inherent causes 

“The factors that trigger Bell’s palsy are still unknown. However, there could be inherent triggers such as injuries, tumours, congenital disabilities or factors and autoimmune conditions,” says Dr Khushbu Goel, a neurologist at Manipal Hospital, Delhi. She lists some causes that compress the cranial nerves – specifically the 7th cranial nerve – that control the facial muscles.

 “The nerve can get inflamed or damaged due to viral infections like herpes zoster, HIV or bacterial infection,” she says. In addition, people with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and upper respiratory infections, as well as pregnant women with pre-eclampsia (a state with increased blood pressure), are at risk, adds Dr Goel. 

The conditions constrict the nerve’s pathway, thereby hampering the signal transmission of the neurons. As a result, the facial muscles weaken, leading to drooping, which manifests as Bell’s palsy or idiopathic facial palsy. According to the US National Institute of Health, Bell’s palsy is the most common facial paralysis, usually affecting only one side of the face. However, in rare cases, it may affect both sides. 

Sudden onset 

Symptoms of this condition are often rapid and progressive, manifesting within a day or a week. The weakened muscles make it difficult for the affected eyelid or lip to close, and drooling and slurred speech follow. Sometimes, the person experiences difficulty in taste and smell, irritability to noise, excessive salivation, watery eyes, and earache.  

According to a recent survey, Bell’s palsy occurs in both genders and all age groups. However, a higher incidence occurs in the middle age (in the 40s) group and relatively lower in children.   

Treatment options 

Dr Goel says that a quick medical intervention and treatment comprising steroids, antiviral, and antibacterial medications will help the individual recover within six to eight weeks. In addition, physiotherapy involving exercises for face muscles like raising the eyebrows or frowning and massages can aid recovery. 

Researchers are also exploring other ways of treating the condition. Biofeedback techniques and electrical stimulation are some emerging treatment methods that are safe and effective in treating Bell’s palsy.  

In one such study, 196 participants who were diagnosed early with Bell’s palsy were given transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to activate nerves and muscles below the skin and induce movement in the affected muscles. Researchers found a statistically significant improvement in the condition of participants.  

Another study shows that children do not need steroidal medicines to recover from Bell’s palsy.   

Manthale’s medical history showed no significant health condition that could trigger the palsy; however, a few of her relatives had been affected by the condition.  

 The holistic approach  

One of Manthale’s relatives suggested she seek Ayurveda treatment along with modern medicine for quicker relief.  

Dr Vijay Kumar Srivastava, a professor from Banaras Hindu University’s Faculty of Ayurveda, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, throws light on how Ayurveda treats Bell’s palsy. He says that the condition is known as ardita, which is the obstruction in the passage of the air element (vata dosha) in the nervous system. “In addition to the blockage in the nerve pathways (srotas or nadis), an unhealthy lifestyle, old age, and malnourishment could be other contributing factors for Bell’s palsy,” he explains. 

Ayurveda aims to restore the disturbed air element to a normal state and strengthen facial muscles. The treatment plan includes lifestyle changes (diet and exercises), detoxification (panchakarma and oil massages) and medicines. 

Dr Srivastava also extols the benefit of nasyam: administering medicated oils through the nose. He says that “nasal therapy plays a significant role in reversing the condition and is one of the preferred modes of treatment when the brain or nervous system is affected. The medicine reaches the brain quickly and acts on it.” 

Along with the therapy, pathyam or diet restrictions help, he says. 

Best of both 

Dr Santosh Balode from the Siddha Ayurveda Hospital in Hyderabad put Manthale on ayurvedic medicines and lifestyle modifications. “We asked her not to eat spicy, oily, and non-vegetarian foodstuffs. She was also asked to practice simple facial exercises like chewing and puffing up the cheeks,” says Dr Balode.   

In addition, avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme cold, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and getting adequate amount of good sleep help reduce the incidence of Bell’s palsy, says Dr Srivastava. 

The recovery rate depends on early medical consultation and the willpower of the affected person, according to Dr Balode. “My doctor’s assuring words gave me strength and positivity. That helped me recover in a month,” says Manthale.  

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