HONOLULU (KHON2) — One February morning in 2022, this reporter woke up and could not move the left side of his face. A terrifying feeling permeated everything. What was happening? Help was needed.

Going to the bathroom mirror and standing there was a person unrecognizable. It was like 30 years had crept by overnight.

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A Google search immediately ensued. What causes facial paralysis? They found a good bit of information on strokes but quickly ruled that out.

Then, they saw something that most people have only heard of in passing, Bell’s Palsy.

The more they searched, the clearer it became that no one really understood how or where it comes from. So, an appointment with a primary care physician was made immediately.

In the meantime, there was a great deal of intense pain to deal with along with the inability to make facial movements. Was the intense pain mentioned? It was the most excruciating pain experience, ever.

Once with the physician, it was discovered that he knew even less than we did about Bell’s Palsy. After he spent a few minutes on Google, he checked to ensure that it had not been a stroke. Thankfully, he confirmed that there was no stroke.

But, he still was unable to provide any guidance. So, the next six weeks were spent in a dark room with complete silence and a heating pad.

This has not been an uncommon experience for many since the pandemic began. According to a recent study, Bell’s Palsy diagnoses have increased 8.6% since the pandemic began for those who contracted COVID and 6.8% for those who have been vaccinated. That is nearly 50 million more people contracting Bell’s Palsy than before the onset of COVID.

No one knows what Bell’s Palsy is. Some researchers believe it is a virus that is related to chicken pox and shingles. Others believe it is related to the health of the trigeminal nerve.

What everyone can agree on is that there is no treatment or cure.

So, how do you know that you have Bell’s Palsy? The Mayo Clinic has provided a list:

  • Rapid onset of mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of your face — occurring within hours to days – for this reporter, it occurred overnight.
  • Facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling – This reporter was completely incapable of closing or moving the left eye and mouth.
  • Drooling – well, this was gross.
  • Pain around the jaw or in or behind your ear on the affected side – the pain experienced by this reporter was so severe that the only option was to lie down in the dark and try to sleep through it.
  • Increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side – the room was made to be completely silent since all sound intensified the pain.
  • Headache – see above…
  • A loss of taste – this was a weird one. Everything tasted like it was laced with cinnamon.
  • Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce – for many, they experience extreme dry eyes to point where they develop sores. Fortunately, this was something that did not happen for this reporter.

Although having experienced most of these, this reporter made it through. After about eight weeks, a small feeling of facial control began coming back, but it was another eight months before the facial muscles felt anything close to being normal again.

This experience is a bit different from the average person. According to the Mayo Clinic, those suffering from Bell’s Palsy will have the process of complete paralysis take place over a three-month period.

It is then another nine months before a person can be back to normal. It is a long and somewhat humiliating road. You can’t hide what is happening, and everyone in your life wants the details.

The experience ends up being a public event from which there are no places to hide.

Over the months, this reporter has diligently performed restorative exercises for the facial nerves and muscles. There is still a bit of healing to go, but it is a far cry from where the diagnosis was one year ago.

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If you or someone you know has experienced Bell’s Palsy, it is important that you know this is something that is becoming more prevalent. Hopefully, as more and more people are struck with Bell’s Palsy, research will find a way to prevent this from happening.