Loss of sensation in the facial area is a characteristic symptom of face numbness. It may be accompanied by a tingling sensation on the face and lips. Alongside, there may also be other symptoms like swelling, loss of control over the facial muscles, burning sensation, etc.
Numbness may be felt on one or both the sides of the face. These can be symptoms of mild or complete paralysis of the facial region. The condition may be temporary or permanent.
Our face consists of the cranial and facial bones that are covered by nerves and muscles. Nerves carry impulses to the brain, guiding the movement of the muscles, as required.
The trigeminal nerve is located at the base of the brain. Its branches are spread across the face, and any injury or damage to these nerves can lead to numbness in the face. At times, cold temperatures may also cause loss of sensation and tingling.
Causes of Facial Numbness
1. Bell's Palsy
Bell's Palsy is a form of temporary facial paralysis, caused by damage or trauma to the facial nerves. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, about one in every 5000 people in the United States is said to suffer from Bell's Palsy annually. The exact cause behind this condition, however, remains unclear. Scientists believe that it could be triggered by viral infections like meningitis or herpes. These infections lead to inflammation of the facial nerves, which in turn, causes numbness.
- Paralysis on one or (rarely) both sides of the face
- Drooping of the eyelid and corner of the mouth
- Dryness of the eye or mouth
- Taste impairment
- Excessive tearing in the eye on the affected side
2. Trigeminal Neuralgia
Neuropathic facial pain or trigeminal neuralgia is a nerve disorder affecting the trigeminal nerve. A tumor or a swollen blood vessel may exert pressure on the trigeminal nerve, leading to numbness and pain in the facial region. This pain is felt around the lips, eyes, nose, and ears. The person may experience a dull, burning pain in the affected area. At times, the pain is severe and unbearable. Multiple sclerosis is considered a possible cause of trigeminal neuralgia. The precise reason/s triggering this condition, again, stays unknown.
- Electric shock-like jabs all over the face
- Extremely painful facial spasms
- Pain that is triggered by regular activities like brushing or shaving
3. Multiple Sclerosis
This is an autoimmune disease wherein the body's immune system attacks and destroys the myelin sheaths, which are fatty protective coverings around the nerves. This causes serious damage to the nerves. This is one of the most common causes of facial numbness. Multiple sclerosis can cause numbness in the extremities as well.
- Facial pain
- Double vision
- Discomfort in the eye
- Loss of vision in the eye on the affected side
4. Pinched Nerve
There are three branches of trigeminal nerve - the ophthalmic nerve, maxillary nerve, and mandibular nerve. If there is any irritation or injury to these nerves due to any reason, it leads to a compressed nerve. Usually, this condition is treated by taking adequate rest.
- Partial facial numbness
- Tingling sensation
- Sharp pain that is aggravated by movement
5. Shingles on the Face
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is an infection that is caused by varicella zoster virus. It is characterized by a rash that may appear on any area of the body, including the face, and is accompanied by muscle pain. This condition is usually treated by antiviral drugs, as prescribed by the physician.
- Difficulty moving facial muscles
- Drooping eyelid
- Hearing loss
- Trouble in blinking
- Vision problems
An injury to the face, head, neck, or spine may damage some of the nerves. This may lead to a loss of sensation in the face. Neuropathy or nerve damage may also occur due to an underlying disease or disorder like diabetes. If one feels numbness in the face, along with weakness in the arms or legs on one side of the body, it could be an indication of an impending stroke.
- A splitting headache
- Loss of consciousness
7. Central Nervous System Disorders
One of the most common causes of numbness in the face is a mild stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures, or if a blood clot obstructs the flow of blood, thereby causing a decrease in oxygen supply to the brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain leads to face numbness, mostly on one side. However, unlike Bell's Palsy, a person with face numbness due to stroke, will be able to wrinkle his forehead or close an eye. Transient ischemic attacks, that are kind of miniature strokes may also be one of the causes of numbness in face.
8. Cancerous Tumors
Tumors that grow from the nerve sheath, called schwannomas can lead to facial numbness, tingling, and pain. This numbness will progress over the months and requires medical attention. It may even be accompanied by loss of hearing and loss of facial sensation. Another type of tumor called meningioma can invade nerves and compress them anywhere along its path. In many cases of metastatic cancer, especially in breast cancer, one may experience numbness in the chin.
9. Vitamin Deficiency
Vitamin deficiency, especially vitamin B12 deficiency, can cause numbness of the face. Lack of potassium, calcium, or sodium in the body can also lead to facial numbness.
There are plenty of other reasons behind numbness in the face. These may include stress, depression, panic attack, or hyperventilation. Migraines may lead to perioral numbness, that is, numbness around the mouth in some individuals.
It can also be due to a medical condition called diabetic neuropathy or side effects of certain drugs. These drugs contain inhibitors that alter the neurotransmitters and their functions, leading to numbness of face and other body parts. Autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's Disease, scleroderma, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) may also lead to face numbness and tingling.
Several times, the causes may not always be so grave. Sleeping in a very awkward position (exerting pressure on facial nerves) can lead to face numbness, but the effect would be temporary. You might feel 'pins and needles' for sometime, but your face would feel normal again.
At all times, it is advised that you consult your physician, who would recommend the best course of action. Any delay in doing so, may cause the symptoms to aggravate and lead to further complications.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.