Etiology, diagnosis, and management of facial palsy: 2000 patients at a facial nerve center

Laryngoscope. 2014 Jul;124(7):E283-93. doi: 10.1002/lary.24542. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


Objectives/hypothesis: To evaluate the range and incidence of facial palsy etiologies in cases presenting to a tertiary facial nerve center, and to review the broad and evolving spectrum of diagnostic and management approaches to the condition.

Study design: Retrospective chart review.

Methods: Records of patients referred for facial weakness between 2003 and 2013 were reviewed for cases of facial palsy. Cases of muscle dysfunction and primary hemifacial spasm were excluded. The remainder were analyzed by age, sex, and diagnosis. Diagnostic and treatment strategies were reviewed.

Results: There were 1,989 records that met inclusion criteria. Bell's palsy accounted for 38% of cases, acoustic neuroma resections 10%, cancer 7%, iatrogenic injuries 7%, varicella zoster 7%, benign lesions 5%, congenital palsy 5%, Lyme disease 4%, and other causes 17%. Sixty-one percent of patients were female. Mean age at presentation was 44.5 years (±18.6 years). Diagnoses were revealed primarily by history, though serial physical examinations, radiography, and hematologic testing also contributed. Management strategies included observation, physical therapy, pharmacological therapy, chemodenervation, facial nerve exploration, decompression, repair, and the full array of static and dynamic surgical interventions.

Conclusions: Bell's palsy remains the most common facial palsy; females present more often for evaluation. Comprehensive diagnostic investigation is mandatory in atypical cases, and thorough management must be multidisciplinary. The algorithms presented herein outline a single center's approach to the facial palsy patient, providing a framework that clinicians caring for these patients may adapt to their specific settings.

Level of evidence: 2b.

Keywords: Facial nerve; facial palsy; facial paralysis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Decompression, Surgical / methods*
  • Disease Management*
  • Facial Paralysis / diagnosis
  • Facial Paralysis / etiology*
  • Facial Paralysis / therapy
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Retrospective Studies