Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a new and important tool for use in diagnosing and investigating diseases affecting the facial nerve. In recent gadolinium-DTPA enhanced MRI (Gd-MRI) studies it has unequivocally been demonstrated that ipsilateral facial nerve contrast enhancement, predominantly in the meatal portion, is present in both Bell's palsy and herpes zoster oticus. In this overview, the results of MRI studies performed on patients with acute peripheral facial palsy, especially Bell's palsy and herpes zoster oticus, are discussed. The Gd-MRI pattern in Bell's palsy is very similar to that seen in herpes zoster oticus, and the findings reported so far support the theory that an inflammation may be the cause of the nerve injury in both cases. So far, however, Gd-MRI has not been helpful in evaluating the severity and/or prognosis of the facial palsy. Further studies employing improved techniques, including three-dimensional fast (or turbo) spin echo (3DFSE) MRI with heavily T2-weighted sections and high resolution three-dimensional Fourier transform (3DFT) MRI, need to be conducted in order to determine whether it is possible to follow the course of the disease and whether MRI and/or Gd-MRI are useful prognostic tools in the early stages of palsy.