Is Bells Palsy Contagious?

March 28, 2022

If you're asking these questions, let’s cut to the quick. The simple answer to this question is no, Bell's palsy is not contagious. Read on to learn about what Bell's palsy is, how it happens, and what symptoms are associated with this condition.

What Is Bell's Palsy?

Bell's palsy is a sudden onset weakening or paralysis in the facial muscles that only affects one side of the face, looking much like a stroke. Past this surface similarity, however, Bell's palsy and a stroke are completely different. In Bell's palsy, facial paralysis is temporary and comes with distinct symptoms. Bell’s palsy does not involve weakness in any other area, except one half (right or left-sided) of the muscles of the face. A stroke has to be suspected if the paralysis or weakness occurs in the face AND any other muscle or extremity below the neck.

Bell's Palsy Symptoms

Bell's palsy quickly grows in severity; symptoms can reach their peak usually within a few hours or a day, though it can take longer. You may be experiencing Bell's palsy if you have the following symptoms.

  • Drooping mouth or eyelids
  • Difficulty closing your eyes, mouth, chewing, or making facial expressions
  • Uncontrollable drooling or watering eyes (or extremely dry eyes)
  • Inability to smile or raise your eyebrows
  • Odd facial or deep ear pain
  • Headache or noise sensitivity
  • Loss of taste

If you experience any of these symptoms and your face begins to droop, or you have inexplicable facial pain, contact your doctor or a health care professional immediately. The final status of your facial muscle function can be improved if you are diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy and get treatment started very quickly. Shortening or minimizing the time from symptom onset to the start of treatment is critically important. Unexplainable pain in your eyes, behind the ears, or loss of taste may be signs of an underlying condition that may be causing facial nerve inflammation.

How Does Bell's Palsy Occur?

Bell's palsy occurs when the facial nerves on one side of the face become swollen or irritated and proper function stops. Nerve irritation and inflammation cause muscle weakness and facial dropping associated with Bell's palsy. These nerves exit the brain through the bone located immediately behind the ear and enter the face under the earlobe. Anything that causes the facial nerve sheaths to swell could cause Bell's palsy. Pregnancy, obesity, and diabetes mellitus are risk factors for Bell's palsy.

While the condition is not contagious, it is likely caused by the reactivation of a virus. These include upper respiratory illnesses, like the flu or a cold, herpes simplex 1, measles or chickenpox, mumps, amongst other kinds of viruses. The virus hides in your nerves for years or decades, and can suddenly be reawakened when you are stressed or temporarily weakened. The only time that Bell’s palsy could be contagious is when it is associated with herpes virus vesicles that erupt inside or around your ear (Ramsay Hunt Syndrome), and contact precautions should be followed so as not to spread the virus.

Other Possible Causes

Some things may make the facial nerve swelling more likely to occur; Bell's palsy is still considered an idiopathic condition or one with no identifiable cause that seems to happen randomly. Other reasons why Bell's palsy might develop include injury or trauma to the face.

High amounts of stress may also be a cause, and sleep deprivation has been associated with the onset of Bell's palsy. If you have an underlying autoimmune condition, you may also be at a higher risk, as you would have more sensitivity to inflammation.

Final Thoughts and Lasting Consequences

Generally, the symptoms of Bell's palsy can fade quickly, and most are gone within a month. In 5-8% of cases, there may be lasting damage to the facial muscles. This may make any muscle drooping permanent or could result in uncontrollable muscle movements in the face. If an eye on the affected side of the face is unable to close during the duration of symptoms, it may mean the eye becomes so dry the cornea is vulnerable to scratching. If it is scratched, it may result in full or partial blindness. This is why it is important to contact a medical professional immediately if you notice symptoms of Bell’s palsy in yourself or others.