Health Team

Facial paralysis disease needs two treatments

Posted September 1, 2009 1:20 p.m. EDT
Updated September 1, 2009 7:19 p.m. EDT

A virus can cause a type of temporary facial paralysis, but antiviral treatments don't help much unless they are combined with steroids, according to new research.

The disease is called Bell's Palsy and can happen in about one in 60 people.

Diane D'Uva was struck with the disease more than five years ago.

"I woke up, and I thought I was having some sort of allergic reaction because my face was very numb," D'Uva said.

"What happens is one side of the face gets very droopy, which, of course, is extremely disconcerting," explained Dr. Gordon Guyatt, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

D'Uva was immediately given a prescription for a steroid that would help relieve the pressure on her facial nerve. She did not get an antiviral agent, which is another suggested treatment for Bell's Palsy.

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association studied which medication works best.

"We looked at all the randomized trials that looked at either of these two treatments – steroids or antiviral agents for Bell's Palsy – to try and get the best estimate of the effects of those treatments," Guyatt said.

Data from more than 2,700 patients showed that treatment with only steroids improved patient outcomes, while use of only antiviral agents did not.

"There was not hint of any effect of antivirals when given by themselves, but when given with steroids, they appeared to augment the effect of steroids," Guyatt said.

D'Uva said that given her experience, that news is promising.

"You can get to the point where you can talk to people and not worry that your eye might shut on you or you might look a little silly," D'Uva said.

Researchers noted that further studies are needed to definitively establish the benefit of the combined drug treatment.