Facial Nerve Damage Injuries, Symptoms and Treatment
The facial nerves run along the sides of the face and control the facial muscles that allow us to demonstrate expressions, such as smiling. They also travel through the parotid gland, providing motor functions for the muscles and glands of the neck and head.
Symptoms and Diagnosing
Facial nerve damage depends upon the severity of the injury or damage to the nerve, and can range from mild twitching, to serious facial muscle weakness, and even paralysis. Thus, facial nerve damage can range from a mild issue to life-altering, depending upon the cause and symptoms. Some of the tests used to determine the severity of the issue include:
- Hearing tests: These are typically done in order to assess whether there has been damage to the auditory nerve; one example is the stapedial reflex test.
- Balance tests: These help determine if the auditory nerve has been impacted.
- Tear tests: These can help locate the site and severity of facial nerve issues based on whether the patient can form tears or not.
- Imaging studies: CT scans and/or MRIs can help determine if there are any abnormalities, such as tumors or fractures.
- Salivation tests: These can help locate the site and severity of facial nerve issues based on whether the patient suffers from a decreased flow of saliva.
- Electrical nerve stimulation: Electrical current tests can help predict whether the patient will eventually have full facial function again based upon whether and to what extent the nerve can cause the muscles to contract.
Facial nerves can be damaged by certain types of trauma, such as skull fractures, ear injuries, and/or facial injuries caused in an accident or during surgical trauma, as well as birth trauma, certain nervous system maladies (such as suffering from a stroke that involves the brainstem), or certain types of face or ear infections. Certain types of tumors and toxins, such as acoustic neuroma and carbon monoxide poisoning, can also lead to facial nerve damage, as can conditions such as Bell’s Palsy.
Bell’s Palsy is typically provided as a diagnosis for facial nerve paralysis when no other cause can be identified. Symptoms include acute unilateral paralysis of facial muscles, preceding viral illness, and sometimes numbness or pain in the neck, ear, face, or tongue, as well as an increased hearing sensitivity. Typically, these symptoms spontaneously resolve after approximately six weeks.
It is thought that Bell’s Palsy could be caused by a viral infection, whereby there was primary exposure to the virus at some point in the past, but it now lives in the nerve and can become reactivated at a later date, and can also infect the cells surrounding the nerve, resulting in inflammation.
Treatments for facial nerve damage typically depend upon the specific condition that is responsible for the damage itself. Steroid medications along with others, such as acyclovir have been shown to help with recovery.
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