A nutritionist has told of her horror when she woke up one morning with half of her face paralysed – which doctors say was caused by stress.
Danielle Ferguson knew something wasn’t right when her tongue went numb and her jaw throbbed in pain as if ‘someone had punched her’ one night in August.
When the 29-year-old, from California, woke up the next day she had lost all feeling in the entire right side of her face.
Her parents drove her to hospital where doctors diagnosed her with Bell’s palsy and prescribed her with an oral steroid and antivirals.
Medics said her condition was caused by stress and claimed that there was nothing she could have done to prevent it. She is still paralysed on one side of her face.
Danielle Ferguson, 29, from California, lost all feeling in the right side of her face one night in August. Pictured before, left, and after the paralysis
Medics attributed her condition to stress and said that there was nothing she could have done to prevent it
Mrs Ferguson (pictured with her husband) shied away from going out in public because she was self-conscious about her condition
Bell’s palsy is a, usually, self-limiting condition that causes paralysis to one side of a person’s face.
The condition affects around 40,000 Americans each year and 10,000 Britons. It occurs when the facial nerve becomes inflamed.
The exact cause it not known, but stress is thought to play a role by weakening the immune system, which contributes to the inflammation of nerves.
As with almost every nerve, the facial nerve is connected to the brain to either carry information from the brain to control muscles or return information to the brain relating to sensory information.
WHAT IS BELL’S PALSY?
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in one side of the face.
It is a rare condition which is believed to affect around one in 5,000 people each year.
It is is believed to occur when the nerve that controls the muscles in your face becomes compressed.
The exact cause is unknown, although it’s thought to be because the facial nerve becomes inflamed, possibly due to a viral infection. Variants of the herpes virus may be responsible.
Around seven out of 10 people with Bell’s palsy make a complete recovery, with or without treatment.
Most people notice an improvement in their symptoms after about two to three weeks. However, a complete recovery can take between three and six months.
For nerves to do this, they must pass through a passage of bone near the upper jaw.
If the facial nerve is inflamed, it can interfere with the signals that the brain sends to muscles in the face, causing one side of the face to become paralysed.
Recalling her ordeal, Mrs Ferguson said: ‘The week prior to my diagnosis I had felt like I was coming down with a cold.
‘Then that Saturday I started to feel the symptoms coming on, but I didn’t know what it was at the time.
‘My tongue felt numb and my jaw hurt really badly; almost like someone had punched me or I was grinding my teeth all night long. Plus my smile was a bit off but nothing super noticeable.
‘I woke up on Sunday to my entire right side of my face paralysed which I was told by the nurse the prior day that this could happen.
‘So, I wasn’t as shocked and afraid as I would have been if we didn’t go to the clinic the day before.’
Mrs Ferguson became self-conscious about her condition and shied away from strangers as a result.
But she used social media to contact other sufferers and has since gained more than 12,000 followers on Instagram, where she shares her own journey.
Bell’s palsy’s exact cause it not known, but stress is thought to play a role by weakening the immune system, which contributes to the inflammation of nerves
Mrs Ferguson has been getting acupuncture in her face to try restore some of the feeling
HOW CAN PARALYSIS BE TEMPORARY?
Paralysis can be temporary, despite widespread beliefs that it is permanent and those who are given the diagnosis will never walk again.
The term paralysis just refers to the inability to move some, or all parts, of the body, according to the NHS. It can come and go.
There are several forms of paralysis, including paraplegia (both legs), tetraplegia/quadriplegia (both arms and legs), hemiplegia (one side of the body) and monoplegia (one arm or leg).
Known causes include strokes, Bell’s palsy, serious head or spinal cord injuries or multiple sclerosis.
Physiotherapy can help victims regain strength and muscle mass, and help some patients to regain movement. However, recovery depends on several factors, including how severe the damage to the spinal cord is. It can take up to two years for victims to regain feeling.
Medication is given to relieve sufferers of any pain they may feel.
She added: ‘At first, I was shy about being around anyone other than my family, however I never really let that stop me from sharing with my Instagram community.
‘I found once I started sharing my story, people started to tell me they either had it or knew someone who did, and it created this sort of connection.
‘I do still hide my smile at times when I laugh or smile big as that is when you can really tell my smile is crooked.’
Mrs Ferguson was told that the condition could have been caused by stress and that she would eventually regain the strength in her muscles.
She decided to research into various remedies and therapies to alleviate her symptoms.
Mrs Ferguson added: ‘There was a lot going on, but I thought that was normal. I didn’t feel like I was overly stressed.
‘However, looking back what I didn’t realise was everything I was doing or trying to do was based on my thinking I had to work hard in order to be worthy,’ she said.
‘That headspace I was in had to be corrected and I think me getting Bell’s palsy was my body’s way of telling me that.
‘I am still recovering, however, in the beginning, I really tried everything I could and while the doctors told me there was really nothing I could do; I frankly didn’t believe that.’
The nutritionist is starting to see movement come back in her face but she knows she had a long road of recovery ahead.
She said that even if she never gains feeling back in her right side it wouldn’t stop her from ‘doing what she wants to do with her life’.
The nutritionist is starting to see movement come back in her face but she knows she had a long road of recovery ahead
She added: ‘I want to help others be health advocates for themselves and take back control of their own health and if that is inspiration then, yes, I want to inspire others to do this.
‘I do this by simply being myself, showing up on Instagram and in life to pour my heart and soul into what I believe. I am Dani, my heart is my own and there’s nothing that can change that.’
Bell’s palsy is one of a group of conditions that can cause paralysis of the facial nerve.
It is the most common form of facial nerve paralysis and encompasses cases where the cause of the paralysis cannot be identified.
People with Bell’s palsy can find it difficult to close their eyelid on the affected side. They may also drool and find it difficult to chew food. Taste can also be affected.
Some people also experience headaches, jaw ache and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
The condition is named after the 19th-century Scottish anatomist and surgeon Sir Charles Bell, who used three cases to describe the palsy (paralysis) that was named after him.
Although the causes of Bell’s palsy are not always known, it is thought that, in some cases, the herpes simplex virus plays a role.
The varicella zoster virus – the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles – has also been named as a suspect. But neither of these causes has been proved.
Most cases of facial nerve paralysis that have an unknown cause are classed as Bell’s palsy.
For these cases, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation and thus ease the pressure on the squeezed nerve.
Some doctors advocate surgery, but surgery carries risks, including damaging important structures in the face.
Some studies have looked at the benefit of anti-viral therapies to treat Bell’s palsy, but these have proved to be no better than placebo.