Lyme disease is a complicated illness. It’s caused by the Borrelia bacteria, which is transferred to humans through a tick bite. Antibiotics are the only course of treatment following infection, but sometimes the debilitating symptoms of a Lyme infection can linger long after treatment has finished.
This late-stage Lyme disease is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS), and it can last for years following the initial infection. The chronic symptoms that arise from PTLDS can include:
- Cognitive disfunction
- Nerve damage
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Depression and stress
- Damage to the heart
These symptoms can be hard to manage due to the initial cause, and many Lyme disease sufferers can do nothing but treat the current ailment and wait it out.
Another common symptom of PTLDS is Bell’s palsy, or facial palsy. Let’s take a look at some questions about facial palsy and Lyme disease, including “Is facial palsy from Lyme disease permanent?”
Can Lyme disease affect your face?
If Lyme disease is caught and treated early, further complications may not arise. But for those who have been left untreated due to a lack of knowledge regarding their symptoms, it can progress significantly.
The Borrelia bacteria has a way of making its rounds throughout the body once it enters the bloodstream, and it can camp out in fibroblast cells (scar tissue) and lymph nodes. It has the ability to hide itself in a way that decreases the chances of the immune system having a response. This means the bacteria can still thrive and have a negative effect on all the body’s systems, including the nerves that affect the face.
Can Lyme disease cause Bell’s palsy?
Although Lyme disease can cause facial palsy in those suffering from late-stage or chronic illness, it’s not exactly the same as Bell’s palsy. Bell’s palsy is caused by inflammation and swelling of the facial nerve and causes paralysis on the side affected. In the majority of cases, Bell’s palsy presents with just one symptom: facial paralysis. It can also present with ear pain, though this isn’t always the case.
In terms of facial palsy associated with Lyme disease, facial paralysis tends to go along with a plethora of other Lyme symptoms, such as:
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle and joint aches
The main difference between a typical case of Bell’s palsy and facial palsy caused by Lyme disease is the accompanying symptoms that present in the patient. The facial palsy in Lyme disease patients is caused by the Borrelia bacteria’s ability to damage nerves. It does this by attaching itself to the nerves and inflaming the area to an unsafe level. Once the inflammation has taken hold, the nerve damage begins to increase. Nerve damage associated with Lyme disease can be recovered from, but if left for too long, can lead to permanent damage in the affected area.
How long does facial palsy last with Lyme disease?
There is no definitive cause of Bell’s palsy, and the disease itself can strike at any time and any age. Some cases may arise due to a viral infection, but that is not the status quo when it comes to the onset of the condition. A typical bout of Bell’s palsy can last anywhere from a few weeks to around six months, and in most cases it does resolve. In few patients, the condition is permanent or can recur, though this is quite uncommon.
The facial palsy that occurs with Lyme disease is a little trickier. The recovery time is almost three times the amount than with a case of Bell’s palsy, with some cases taking roughly 18 months to resolve. Recovery time is also dependent on how quickly treatment begins.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease
Lyme disease has the uncanny ability to mimic other conditions, as well as lay dormant in the body in areas where it can thrive without causing an immune response. These tactics can make diagnosing facial palsy as a Lyme disease repercussion much more difficult.
To ensure that a patient with facial palsy is getting the right treatment, tests will need to be done to rule out certain conditions, and medical history will be taken into account. When Lyme disease is found to be the culprit, treatment may begin.
Treatment for Lyme-induced facial palsy
The treatment for Lyme-induced facial palsy begins with proper diagnosis. Because Lyme disease can be mistaken for Bell’s palsy, misdiagnosis can occur in those who don’t have the usual symptoms of PTLDS. Treatment can be a long road if that occurs, because Bell’s palsy is often treated with antivirals or corticosteroids.
There has been a link between the worsening of Lyme disease symptoms and treatment with corticosteroids – thus, if the condition is misdiagnosed, it can lead to much longer recovery times. Lyme disease treatment will always start with an antibiotic, and then, depending on symptoms, will lead up to various other treatment levels.
Physical therapy to help restore the movement in facial muscles may also need to be carried out to ensure a speedier recovery. Other treatments for Lyme-induced facial palsy include eye drops if the eyes have been affected, and in the most serious cases, surgery to improve the appearance of the face following nerve damage.
Featured image by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash