The facial nerve, cranial nerve VII, serves many vital functions. It supports motor function of the facial muscles that allow expressions such as smiling and frowning. It facilitates the detection of flavors through its special sensory fibers in the tongue. It also aids the function of glands in the mouth, eyes and nose. Facial nerve damage can affect any or all of these areas or functions. There are several different modes of treatment for facial nerve damage
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In some cases of facial nerve damage, doctors maintain a "wait and see" attitude in order to assess whether intervention is needed to aid the damaged nerve. In such situations, the doctor’s focus is on controlling symptoms, such as dry eyes, rather than addressing the cause.
Facial nerve damage can result in an inability to close the eyes. Dry eyes are a common complaint in patients with facial nerve damage. The New York Times notes that facial nerve palsy, a condition that can result when a tumor or other growth presses on the facial nerve, can make it difficult to close the eye on the side of the face that has been affected. Lubricating eye drops and the use of an eye patch while sleeping are recommended to ease the discomfort of dry eyes.
The New York Times lists corticosteroids and antiviral medications as helpful in the treatment of Bell’s palsy, a temporary paralysis of the face caused by facial nerve damage. These medications help decrease swelling, thus relieving the nerve of excess pressure that can cause damage.
Leprosy can cause damage to the facial nerves. At the Dhoolpet Leprosy Research Centre, in Hyderabad, India, leprosy patients treated with steroids were found to have a 76 percent improvement in their ability to close their eyes, indicating renewed function of the facial nerve.
If the nerve damage is caused by a tumor, surgery may be recommended to remove the tumor and relieve the pressure it has placed on the nerve. In cases of Bell’s palsy, the New York Times warns that decompression surgery, a technique used to relieve nerve pressure, is controversial and may not be effective.
At the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery of the Washington University School of Medicine, new techniques involving nerve grafts and tissue transfers are being explored as methods of surgical management for injuries to the facial nerve.