Background: Previous trials of corticosteroid or antiviral treatments for Bell's palsy have been underpowered or have had insufficient follow-up. The aim of this study was to compare the short-term and long-term effects of prednisolone and valaciclovir in the recovery of the affected facial nerve in a large number of patients.
Methods: In this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial, patients aged 18 to 75 years who sought care directly or were referred from emergency departments or general practitioners within 72 h of onset of acute, unilateral, peripheral facial palsy, between May, 2001, and September, 2006, were assessed. Patients were randomly assigned in permuted blocks of eight to receive placebo plus placebo; 60 mg prednisolone per day for 5 days then reduced by 10 mg per day (for a total treatment time of 10 days) plus placebo; 1000 mg valaciclovir three times per day for 7 days plus placebo; or prednisolone (10 days) plus valaciclovir (7 days). Follow-up was for 12 months. The primary outcome event was time to complete recovery of facial function, as assessed with a regional Sunnybrook scale score of 100 points. Analysis was by modified intention to treat. This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT00510263.
Findings: Of 839 patients who were randomly assigned, 829 were included in the modified intention-to-treat analysis: 206 received placebo plus placebo, 210 prednisolone plus placebo, 207 valaciclovir plus placebo, and 206 prednisolone plus valaciclovir. Time to recovery was significantly shorter in the 416 patients who received prednisolone compared with the 413 patients who did not (hazard ratio 1.40, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.64; p<0.0001). There was no difference in time to recovery between the 413 patients treated with valaciclovir and the 416 patients who did not receive valaciclovir (1.01, 0.85 to 1.19; p=0.90). The number of patients with adverse events was similar in all treatment arms.
Interpretation: Prednisolone shortened the time to complete recovery in patients with Bell's palsy, whereas valaciclovir did not affect facial recovery.