Bell's Palsy and Herpes Zoster Oticus

Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2000 Sep;2(5):407-416. doi: 10.1007/s11940-000-0039-5.


Normal facial movement is required for chewing, swallowing, speaking, and protecting the eye. Bell's palsy causes most cases of acute, unilateral facial palsy; infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 may be its major cause. Varicella zoster virus (VZV) reactivation (Ramsay Hunt syndrome) is less common, but may appear without skin lesions in a form indistinguishable from Bell's palsy. Symptoms improve in nearly all patients with Bell's palsy, and most patients with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, but many are left with functional and cosmetic deficits. Steroids are frequently used to optimize outcomes in Bell's palsy, but proof of their effectiveness is marginal. Oral prednisone has been studied extensively, although some reports have suggested a higher recovery rate with intravenous steroids. Given the existing data, we support the use of oral prednisone in those patients with complete facial palsy, and no contraindications to their use (Fig. 1). In this author's opinion, the greatly increased cost and inconvenience of intravenous steroids cannot be justified by the data available. Antiviral agents may also be effective in treatment of Bell's palsy; HSV is susceptible to acyclovir and related agents. There have been few investigations of acyclovir treatment in Bell's palsy, but one controlled study showed added benefit when the drug was used with prednisone. The risk and cost of acyclovir is low enough that we support its use, with oral steroids, in those patients with complete facial paralysis. Several small studies have implied that oral acyclovir improves the outcome of facial palsy for patients with Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Although these studies do not prove efficacy, evidence for the benefits of antiviral agents in other forms of zoster is strong enough to recommend their use when the facial nerve is involved. VZV is less sensitive to acyclovir than HSV, so higher doses are recommended to treat Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Because some Ramsay Hunt syndrome patients with partial facial palsy do not fully recover, we recommend oral antiviral agents in all patients suspected of having zoster. There is weak evidence to suggest additional benefit of oral steroids in facial zoster, and their use can be supported in immunocompetent individuals. Facial nerve decompression surgery for Bell's palsy and herpes zoster oticus has experienced varying levels of enthusiasm over the years. Recent work implies that early, extensive decompression of the nerve through a middle fossa craniotomy may benefit patients at high risk for persistent deficits. However, until this procedure is subjected to a rigorous, controlled trial comparing it with maximal medical therapy, it is difficult to justify the very high costs and risk.