Dr. Henstrom discusses facial nerve damage information, including causes and treatment options available.
There are a lot of different causes of facial nerve damage. Approximately two in every ten thousand people are going to have some kind of facial nerve damage on an annual basis. So this is something that literally effects thousands of people each year across the country.
The most common cause of facial nerve damage is something called, Bell’s Palsy. Usually, for forty-five percent of patients it’s self-limiting, meaning they experience complete recovery within about 3 months. However, there are a lot of other different causes of facial paralysis, including acoustic neuromas, little benign tumors that are found close to the facial nerve. They have to get it operated on and might get some damage from that. There’s other prada gland malignancies that are close to the facial nerve. There are other viral reasons people experience facial nerve damage. That’s just kind of the tip of the iceberg on the number and types of causes of facial nerve damage.
It effects people differently. If a surgery happens and some parts of the face are removed, and they are going to get any type of recovery back. Some patients don’t have that, they’ll get some recovery back, but the recovery may be misguided. And they may have some nerve regeneration that basically ends up with some crossed wires within the branches of the facial nerve. That’s going to leave some abnormal facial movement in the face. For people that don’t have a facial nerve, they can have an effect where they don’t have any movement in the face. For those two different types of facial nerve patients, they are both having facial nerve damage, but we might treat them differently.
The facial nerve is the nerve that goes on both sides of your face and it effects the movements of your face. It’s what controls the natural motions of our face, it’s what helps us elevate our eyebrows, what helps us close our eyes, helps us smile and move the muscles of facial expression So facial nerve damage is going to be something that hurts that nerve, and subsequently causes you weakness on that side of the face.
You might commonly think about some stroke patients, who not only commonly lose motions of some areas of their body and might lose motions of their face. Those are the things that are going to cause damage and that’s what you have when you have damage to the facial nerve.
Facial paralysis or facial nerve damage can effect patients in a lot of different ways. Some of the most common things you are going to see is patients who are going to have difficulty closing their eye. And we’ve got to do things to help protect the eye so we don’t lose it. If an unprotected eye dries out, you get corneal irritation, infections and people can actually lose their eye. That’s, fortunately, very uncommon now days because we’re very active about being proactive in protecting the eye when patients can’t close it.
Long-term consequences of some of the effects of facial paralysis can be inability to really communicate well. It’s not just speech, which a lot of them have some difficulty with, actually communicating with speech, but more importantly, for these patients, it’s actually non-verbal communication. You don’t realize how much you actually speak and communicate with your face until half of it doesn’t move well, and you can’t control it. And all of the sudden, people you’re talking with, people that have maybe known you for years, aren’t reading your social cues and aren’t reading your non-verbal communication very well. So communication is a big issue. Some of these patients have difficulty eating, keeping food and drink in their mouth, and doing things like that.
The common treatments for patients with facial paralysis may vary depending on the degree of recovery they’ve had following their facial nerve injury. However, the common treatments that we’re going to offer patients are specialized neuro-muscular retraining of the face. So it’s kind of a specialized physical therapy for the face to help you learn to reuse the muscles of facial animation. We use a lot of Botox therapy to help quiet down some of the muscles that get hyperactive after recovery from facial nerve damage. We can get balance and facial asymmetry with Botox and then there are a lot of different surgical options that can help patients.
We mentioned earlier, problems with the eye, and sometimes we’ll do a surgery to lift the lower eyelid, or put a weight in the upper eyelid to help them facilitate their eye closure better. In addition, the surgery we would do would be some sort of nerve grafting procedure or facial reanimation surgery using part of a muscle from the leg, transposed up into the face, that will help give them new muscle and a new nerve in the face to help them smile again. We offer the full variety of treatment options for patients with facial paralysis.
Outcomes the patients should be able to expect is improved symmetry and balance in their face. They should be able to feel better about how they communicate with other people, non-verbally especially. They should feel good about the safety of their eye. The things they expect to do on a day-to-day basis to improve their eating, drinking, communicating, and so forth.
Best case scenarios is we get patients who have reanimation surgery and they get back a smile, and if you can imagine not being able to smile, making that change can make a tremendous difference in some patients lives.
To learn more about facial nerve damage repair, call (801)776-2220 or contact us HERE.