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What Is a Facial Nerve Disorder?

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Phone: 801-585-FACE (3223)
Fax: 801-585-2500
ENT: 801-587-UENT

Facial nerve disorders can significantly impact your quality of life, affecting how you speak, eat, drink, and express emotion.A facial nerve disorder results from damage to the nerves controlling your facial movements. The condition causes facial paralysis or weakness, leaving you unable to move a portion of your face. At the Facial Nerve Center, our multidisciplinary experts can restore movement and help you regain your ability to communicate and interact with others.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

Our experts offer multidisciplinary treatment for people with facial nerve disorders. These treatments can help address facial paralysis, facial synkinesis, and possible root causes of the paralysis like trauma or tumors.

Our team includes experts in highly specialized areas:

Working together, we identify and treat the many potential causes of facial nerve disorders.

Causes of Facial Paralysis

Two facial nerves (one on either side of the face) control the muscles used for facial expression, as well as aspects of eye tearing, saliva production, and taste. If they are injured, you may have trouble moving your face, including moving your eyelids or eyebrows, lips, nostrils, or cheeks.

Bell’s palsy is the most common cause of facial nerve problems. The condition usually begins suddenly and affects one side of your face. Doctors think a virus causes the facial nerves to swell, which leads to symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Most people recover from Bell’s palsy, but it may take months to regain normal facial movement. Up to 30 percent of patients may have lasting malfunction of some facial muscles.

A variety of other medical conditions can affect the facial nerves and cause paralysis:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic ear disease
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Facial nerve tumors
  • Head trauma
  • Infections or metabolic disorders
  • Lyme disease or viral infections
  • Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome
  • Noncancerous tumors called neuromas
  • Parotid tumors
  • Ramsay Hunt syndrome
  • Skull base tumors
  • Stroke
  • Surgery
  • Synkinesis

Find a Facial Nerve Disorder Specialist

Facial Nerve Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms vary based on what has damaged the facial nerves and how long the problem has existed. For many people, symptoms occur on only one side of the face:

  • Weakness or drooping in the face
  • Drooping eye or eyebrow
  • Inability to close your eye
  • Inability to smile
  • Involuntary facial movements
  • Facial spasms or twitching
  • Collapsed nostril
  • Changes in taste
  • Increased sensitivity to sound
  • Tearing in your eye

If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention within 72 hours. Facial paralysis can also occur during a stroke. If you’re having facial paralysis and other signs of a stroke, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room right away.

Facial Nerve Disorder Treatment

Your care team will recommend treatment based on how long you’ve had facial paralysis and the cause.

  • Medication—Patients with Bell’s palsy may take steroid medications to reduce swelling in the facial nerves. Evidence suggests taking these medications as soon as symptoms begin may help you recover faster.  
  • Physical therapy—Facial neuromuscular retraining (physical therapy for your face) helps you relearn to move your facial muscles.
  • Blocking neurons—Neuromodulators like Botox®, Dysport®, or Xeomin® can stop muscles that move involuntarily.


Surgery may be an option if you have permanent facial paralysis or lasting asymmetry in how your face moves. Surgeons can use many methods to restore nerve function and muscle movement in your face:

  • Grafting nerves from elsewhere in your face, neck, or body to help a damaged nerve regain function
  • Cutting nerves that misfire (neurectomy)
  • Transferring nerves and muscle from the leg to restore function in the face
  • Using eyelid weights and tightening the eyelid to allow your eyes to close completely
  • Cutting muscles that aren't moving appropriately

What to Expect During Your First Appointment

During your first visit, your surgeon will discuss your condition, how it impacts your life, and what you hope to achieve through treatment. We will conduct a physical exam and assess how your face moves. We will also take videos and pictures of your facial movements to track your progress throughout evaluation and treatment.

Depending on your treatment needs, your doctor may refer you to another specialist or rehabilitation professional.

Schedule an Appointment

Our specialists offer multiple ways to address facial nerve disorder symptoms. You don’t need a referral from your primary care doctor to see us, but your insurance provider may require you to have one to provide coverage. Ask your insurance provider about your policy’s requirements.

To make an appointment, please call 801-585-3223 or request an appointment online. To refer a patient, please use our online referral form or call 801-587-8368 to speak to a patient referral specialist.

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