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Facial neuropathy, also referred to as facial nerve palsy, is a medical disorder affecting the nervous system. With this condition, a nerve in the skull known as the seventh cranial nerve becomes damaged, affecting facial movements. Symptoms are diverse, ranging from headaches or eating difficulties to a drastic change in facial appearance. Treatment depends on the cause of the facial neuropathy but tends to include oral medications or eye drops. In some cases, the neuropathy disappears on its own without any treatment at all.
There is often no clear cause for facial neuropathy, although it can sometimes be linked to conditions such as lyme disease, HIV, or the presence of a tumor. A medical condition known as sarcoidosis can also lead to the development of this condition. Sarcoidosis causes swelling or inflammation of various tissues of the body, including lymph nodes, eyes, and skin.
Symptoms of facial neuropathy are quite varied, depending largely on the severity of the condition. Common symptoms include headache, a feeling of tightness in the facial area, and difficulty eating. The ability to taste foods can be affected by this condition. In some cases, sounds may start to seem louder in one ear than in the other.
A physical exam is often all it takes in order to get a diagnosis of facial neuropathy. However, doctors will sometimes order specific tests in order to rule out other medical conditions. Blood tests are often performed to test for lyme disease or HIV. Tests may be run to rule out major problems such as a stroke. A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is sometimes ordered so that the spinal fluid can be tested for abnormalities.
If the cause can be found, the first line of treatment for facial neuropathy is to treat the originating disease. If this condition is diagnosed quickly enough, strong medications known as steroids may be able to control much of the inflammation. This type of medication may be used alone or in combination with antiviral medications. Ointments or eye drops may be prescribed if the patient is having problems in this area. If a mass or tumor is responsible for the condition, surgery to remove the tumor may become an option.
The prognosis for those suffering with this condition is extremely varied. Some patients will recover completely, without any permanent complications. Still other patients may develop permanent issues such as having limited or no facial movement.