How do you get Bell's Palsy?

JUST BE - Bernadette Sembrano -

I have Bell’s Palsy.

It was a regular Monday meeting of Salamat Dok. Marielle, our executive producer and Michelle, our associate producer, were early. I told them that there was something wrong with my eye. “Badette, have it checked na,” they both insisted. It could be anything. I made a few phone calls to set an appointment with Asian Eye.

I was straining reading from the teleprompter the previous night on TV Patrol Weekend. I shut my eyes for a few moments before my cue. The left eye just kept on twitching, while the right was teary eyed. Must be fatigue, I figured, coming from the out-of-town coverages the past few days.

Nothing that sleep can’t heal.

The following day was almost the same, until I applied my eye makeup. Nothing wrong with the left eye, but when I tried applying eyeliner on my right, I could not shut it. Not without causing my entire face to wrinkle.

I attended the meeting wearing sunglasses.

The agenda for the day was a critique of the past episode, and a brainstorming on the topics for the month: Bell’s Palsy!

Marielle even listed the names of our co-workers who had Bell’s. There were around seven, I believe. It was surprisingly common and so we decided to discuss this in our program.

I even joked that I could be a case study for it. Unaware that I was already experiencing symptoms.

Opthalmologist Dr. Pik Sha Chan Uy saw me at 1:30 p.m. and she ruled out anything wrong with my eye. “Better that you see a neurologist,” she said. While she was performing some more tests, I was busy coordinating with the ever-reliable Mon from St. Luke’s to find me a neurologist who is affiliated with my health card.

That morning I had already texted my acupuncturist friend, Dr. Ico to check on my fatigue-like symptoms. I was getting paranoid, honestly. I was not sure if my tongue was starting to get numb. A cousin-in-law also had some nerve problems. Could I have it, too?

“I think I have Bell’s Palsy,” I told Dr. Ico. I was starting to cry then stopped when I felt that only one side of my face was frowning!

Dr. Ico confirmed it was Bell’s Palsy. He asked me if I was in a very hot place. I was in Davao two days before for relief operations and it was humid, and then I was in the service van which was air-conditioned. Immediately, Dr. Ico applied hot towel on my face and did acupuncture on me.

Though I’m also a believer of the Eastern practice, I opted to consult the expertise of a neurologist. “I think I have Bell’s Palsy,” I told the neurologist. Dr. Saniel made some tests and said, “Looks like you’re right.” He immediately advised that I go through Physical Therapy, and prescribed that I take some steroids that very same day.

What is Bell’s Palsy? It is defined simply as facial nerve paralysis which has a great impact on a patient (Source: Medscape). I’m no expert to confirm any of the technical definitions but I know about what “great impact” means. I will talk about the ups and downs of my ordeal in my next column.

How do you get Bell’s Palsy? “It’s like asking me how do you get flu or dengue,” was the very brief explanation of my neurologist, Dr. Saniel. It just happens.

Western medicine often attributes Bell’s Palsy as a viral infection affecting nerves. It’s in the air, but is not contagious.

Eastern medicine explains Bell’s as an occurrence between the yin and the yang. The face should be yang or hot, and when the yin or cold gets trapped in the yang of the face, it causes paralysis.

Curiously, a number of rehab cases involving Bell’s Palsy say that they were exposed to air-con or electric fan before the paralysis happened. Bry, my therapist, tells me that he has quite a number of call center agents with Bell’s. Fatigue is also a culprit according to my readings.

The symptoms manifest itself 48-hours after.

That Sunday morning during Salamat Dok, two days after my Davao coverage, my right ear was already uncomfortable, sensitive. And the eye problem during Patrol. These are symptoms of Bell’s.

For others, the effects of Bell’s are sudden drooping of the face and numbness. Many times people mistake Bell’s for a stroke because both can affect the facial nerves.

To be on the safe side, I’m doing both Western and Eastern treatment for my Bell’s. The neurologist says it’s fine to continue on with my acupuncture, while prescribing steroids and physical therapy.

The rehab doctor assured me that Bell’s Palsy is self limiting and cures itself. But the first three days are crucial for recovery. I can do my regular activities, no strict diet, and I can just go on normally. But don’t expose yourself to air-con and electric fans. Dr. Vanya says incidence of Bell’s is high during the cold months.

I’m done with the steroids, but I’m still doing therapy and acupuncture diligently, and making faces three times a day.

I am thankful that I went to see a doctor right away, thanks to the insistence of my Salamat Dok producers. Thank you to the kind doctors who were there to help immediately.

More on Bell’s Palsy in my next column. Though I am “smirkling,” (a term I coined because my smile looks like a smirk) it was very challenging. I would share more on this journey in my next column.

Thank you for all the love. Thank you God and family.

(E-mail me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter @bernadette_ABS.)

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