Atrium Health Doctors

News, Primary Care | 8 months ago

42-Year-Old Experiences Sudden Facial Paralysis

Karim Gonzalez was being treated for bronchitis and an ear infection when part of his face started feeling numb.

Karim knew his immune system was likely compromised. He had been sick for a few months starting with COVID-19 and shortly thereafter, an upper respiratory infection. “I was on antibiotics,” Karim recalls. “But several days later I started feeling strange. I couldn’t feel my face. It was numb.”

Karim, concerned he was suffering from an allergic reaction, or worse – a stroke, called Atrium Health Primary Care Ballantyne Family Medicine to alert his doctor, Dr. Usha Balmuri and explain his symptoms.

“Once we heard his symptoms, we immediately called for paramedics to go to his house,” explains Balmuri. “We don’t want our patients driving in case they’ve experienced a stroke or heart attack. Paramedics were able to rule those out, fortunately, but he still needed to go to the hospital.”

Bell’s Palsy Diagnosis

Karim was admitted to Atrium Health Providence Emergency Department where he was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a neurological disorder that causes paralysis or weakness on one side of the face. Symptoms can also include a drooping eyebrow and mouth, drooling from one side of the mouth and difficulty closing an eyelid, which causes eye dryness. Despite Balmuri seeing two Bell’s palsy patients within just a couple of weeks of one another, Jennifer Sheldon, PA, says it’s not that common. “About one in 60 people can get it, but we are seeing more lately. The exact cause isn’t known, but it can be triggered by shingles and can affect anyone of any gender or age but seems to be highest in people 15 to 45 years old. Most cases are associated with viral infections.”

Karim and his family recently relocated to North Carolina and because he is diabetic, he knew it was important to establish a primary care provider. Fortunately, when the paralysis occurred, he had a doctor to call right away.

“If it’s just a facial muscle palsy, it can be diagnosed and treated if we have an ability to do brain imaging immediately,” Balmuri says. “Having a primary care physician will also help guide the proper steps in evaluation and treatment of not just facial nerve palsy but many other conditions. Sometimes reassuring the patient is also important to unnecessary stress.”

Sheldon adds, “Also, it’s easier to get an appointment if you are an established patient. Facial paralysis can be scary and fortunately Karim was proactive and knew where he could call for help.”

Karim was immediately prescribed a steroid, the most effective known treatment for recovering full strength in the facial muscles. Balmuri adds, “Steroids will decrease the edema, or swelling, and we need to treat that as soon as possible to reduce the symptoms and decrease the inflammation.”

Balmuri says in most cases, very rarely will Bell’s cause permanent facial muscle weakness. Facial paralysis from Bell's palsy is temporary and most people regain full facial mobility and function within three months.

Karim shares, “My symptoms lasted about three weeks. I’m happy to announce that I am symptom-free, and the Bell’s palsy is gone!”

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