Whether it occurs during labor and delivery or into adulthood, many people suffer from a condition called Bell’s palsy, in which the muscles of one side of the face seem to droop and sag. Often, this condition is temporary, but sometimes it persists and causes long-term, serious consequences. But what causes Bell’s palsy, and can it be treated or prevented?
Recognizing Bell’s Palsy
In newborns with Bell’s palsy, weakness or paralysis of one side of the face is usually most noticeable when the infant cries. The baby’s mouth and eyes may not move correctly on one side and may droop. To make a diagnosis, besides observing these physical symptoms, a doctor can also perform tests to gauge the baby’s sensory perception, hearing, and sight. The condition may abate over time, or it may linger and cause permanent disfigurement and pain. Reduced tear production and inflammation can also lead to vision impairment.
In adults, Bell’s palsy manifests as the rapid onset of symptoms ranging from mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of the face, developing within hours or days. This makes it difficult to make facial expressions and may lead to drooling, difficulty opening and closing the eyes, and increased sensitivity to sound. Some people experience pain around the jaw or behind the ear, or `have generalized headaches. A CT scan or MRI can illustrate the physiology of the affected nerves and muscles, and an EEG (electroencephalogram) can test the electrical and neurological movement to be sure that the nerves are functioning properly. It’s important to rule out stroke as the cause of the paralysis before proceeding with treatment.
Birth Injuries and Medical Errors
The exact causes of Bell’s palsy in adults are unknown, although the physiological trigger is likely the swelling of the seventh cranial or “facial” nerve. There is some evidence that the condition is more likely to occur after head trauma, surgical errors, or viral infections related to medical treatment.
In infants, an obstetrician’s use of forceps in a negligent way may also be a cause of permanent or temporary Bell’s palsy due to pressure on the baby’s facial nerve during delivery. Researchers also believe that viral infections may be a factor in the development of Bell’s palsy, including the herpes simplex virus. Because this virus can be passed from a mother to child during delivery, the mother’s care providers should take measures to prevent transmission. Failure to do so could constitute medical malpractice or negligence.
If your baby has been diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, you need to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Our sympathetic, friendly advocates will fight hard to help you recover what you deserve for birth injuries and other medical malpractice claims. Contact Sommers Schwartz today for a free, no-obligation consultation.