Raising Awareness of Facial Palsy

publication date: Mar 20, 2019

Facial Palsy UKThe charity Facial Palsy UK has launched a petition seeking to raise awareness of the impact of facial palsy in the United Kingdom. In its first three weeks the petition, which runs until August and is totally non-party political, has been signed by over 3,000 people the length and breadth of the UK. Could you sign too? 10,000 signatures are needed to receive a Government response. UK residents can sign the petition here.

Facial palsy results from damage or absence or impairment of the facial nerve that supplies the muscles of facial function and expression. It affects blinking, closing the eye, eating and drinking, speech, smiling and frowning. Its many causes include disease, injury, stroke, birth trauma, cancer, or neurological condition. The most common is Bell’s palsy, which affects between 12,400 and 24,800 people in the UK each year. Most make a full recovery within two or three months, but roughly 30% do not. In the UK there is a one in 60 lifetime risk of developing Bell’s palsy. People aged 15–45 are more prone to getting it, including in particular women in the last three months of pregnancy.

Why is raising awareness so important?

First, the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of living with facial palsy can be devastating for those affected and their families. Facial difference cannot easily be concealed, and the onset of facial palsy is typically sudden, which can increase the psychological impact, including in pregnancy. Second, early treatment for facial palsy can significantly improve the long-term outcome for those affected. It therefore really matters that people know where they can get support. Facial Palsy UK has a great website and runs support groups, including one for families of children with facial palsy. Third, it can create unnecessary barriers to employment, from attending job interviews to performing certain functions (slurred speech may be harder to understand), to straightforward prejudice about placing people with facial difference in roles such as reception or meeting clients.

A recent survey of 421 people with facial palsy in the UK found that:

  • More than half had suffered with anxiety (58 per cent) and depression (52 per cent) directly linked to having facial palsy.
  • About one in five (19per cent) were misdiagnosed – risking their recovery because they miss medications which should be prescribed within 72 hours.
  • 42 per cent of those who requested to access secondary care said their GP did not know where to refer them.
  • Of those who accessed secondary care, 57 per cent were initially referred to a clinician who could not help them.
  • Over half (58 per cent) the respondents referred to a specialist waited a year or more for the appointment. For those not destined to fully recover from an acquired facial palsy, many of the treatment options available to restore function in the patient’s native facial muscles start to become less effective/ineffective at this time.
  • Only 42 per cent of those accessing secondary care had been seen by a specialist facial therapist.

Please encourage family, friends and colleagues to sign the petition.