MAYWOOD, Ill. -- For people who cannot smile, blink, salivate or control their facial muscles due to facial nerve weakness or paralysis, Loyola University Health System has opened the Center for Facial Nerve Disorders, the first of its kind in the Midwest.
Located on the Loyola University Medical Center Campus, 2160 S. First Ave., Maywood, Ill., the new center is housed in the Loyola Outpatient Center. Combining expertise from more than 10 medical and surgical specialties, Loyola's enter for Facial Nerve Disorders specializes in treatment of facial nerve problems.
The center co-directors, Dr. John P. Leonetti and Dr. Sam J. Marzo, together have treated more than 5,000 facial nerve patients.
The facial nerve plays a complex, vital role in facial expression and movement. "Any disturbance can change how we appear or function," said Leonetti, professor, department of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "So it is important to identify and treat the problem as soon as possible."
The facial nerve also serves many other roles and its location makes it vulnerable to injury. Here's how it works: Coming out of the brain stem, the facial nerve is similar to electrical cable that branches into 7,000 wires (nerve fibers).
Reaching into the neck, glands, face and ear, these nerve fibers are responsible for a specific facial movement, facial expression or process related to tear duct or salivary secretion, hearing or tasting. Electrical impulses carrying instructions for these functions travel along the nerve fibers.
"That’s how we smile, flare a nostril, blink, etc.," said Leonetti, division head, otology, neurotology and skull base surgery; and co-director, Center for Cranial Base Surgery, Loyola University Health System. "But if a virus, tumor, poor circulation or trauma interrupts some of those signals, the result is facial nerve weakness or facial nerve paralysis, and the ability to perform certain tasks is lost."
It is critical to get the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
"That will help prevent further nerve damage and possibly reverse the damage that’s already occurred," said Marzo, associate professor of otolaryngology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
"Not being able to control facial movement and expression can be devastating to the individual," said Marzo, who also serves as program director of the Hearing and Balance Center at Loyola's Oakbrook Terrace Medical Center. "There can be twitching. One side of the mouth may be fine, but the affected side might droop inappropriately. Neck movement may be curtailed."
Bell's palsy, believed to be triggered by a virus, is the most common type of facial nerve paralysis, affecting some 40,000 people each year in the United States. However, symptoms that mimic this condition may be masking cancer, a benign tumor of the facial nerve or other serious illness.
Other causes include:
• A blow from a traffic accident or other trauma that fractures the temporal bone (part of the skull near the inner ear) can injure the facial nerve and cause temporary or permanent paralysis. Nerve damage usually repairs itself, but surgery is often necessary to remove bone fractures from around the nerve.
• Tumors of the ear and salivary gland can invade the facial nerve, causing paralysis that might be reversed with surgery.
The Center for Facial Nerve Disorders provides medical, surgical and psychological management of patients with acute or long-standing facial paralysis.
The center's multidisciplinary approach to the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients with facial nerve paralysis includes ear, nose and throat specialists, as well as experts in neurosurgery, neurology, vision, plastic surgery, specialty nursing, facial physical therapy, cosmetic therapy and psychology.
"With a complete history and physical — as well as additional facial nerve testing and imaging studies — we can quickly determine the cause of the paralysis and recommend the right treatment," said Leonetti.
Marzo said that while not all facial nerve paralysis can be completely repaired, the center's wide range of medical and surgical treatment options can offer patients some improvement.
Loyola has reached an important milestone in late August 2007. The neurological surgeons and otolaryngologists have performed 1,000 neuro-otologic skull-base surgical procedures as a team.
To schedule an appointment with a Loyola physician, call toll-free (888) LUHS-888 and ask for extension 65192.