England rugby star blames flight for his Bell's palsy
Published 16/12/2015 | 17:49
An England rugby player who developed Bell's palsy believes the condition may have been caused by a flight.
Freddie Burns, who plays fly-half for Leicester Tigers and England, suffered paralysis on the left side of his face the day after returning from a summer holiday in Jamaica, according to a report in the Daily Mail.
"I popped downstairs at about 3am to get a glass of water and it just started pouring down my face," Burns told Sportsmail. "It was quite scary. At first I thought I was having a stroke.
“I’d been on holiday in Jamaica with my brother and, the day after we landed back in the UK, I went out for dinner with my girlfriend’s family,” he told the newspaper. “Her sister looked at me across the table and said, “Freddie, why are you winking at me?”
“My eyes were quite heavy and, after going to bed, I popped downstairs to get that drink. I couldn’t move half my face or lips and that’s when it started. The next day I went to the doctor and he said it was Bell’s palsy.”
He was told it would take between three weeks and nine months to recover from the condition, which the NHS describes as the most common cause of facial paralysis.
Burns, who's been out with a jaw injury, hopes to make a comeback for the Tigers on Sunday against Munster in the European Cup.
While he believes that the flight could be to blame for the Bell's palsy, the NHS suggests that the condition is not fully understood.
“The exact cause is unknown, although it's thought to be because the facial nerve becomes inflamed, possibly due to a viral infection,” the NHS website states.
Dr Richard Dawood, Telegraph Travel's health columnist, said travellers needn’t be alarmed by the case and cast doubt on a flight being the cause.
“The idea that 'cabin pressure' was somehow to blame is incorrect,” he said. “Nor is there any evidence for the old wives' tale that 'sitting in a draught' is to blame.
“Bell's palsy affects about 20 to 40 people per hundred thousand of the population each year, which translates into 12,000 to 24,000 cases in the UK. It is believed to be triggered by compression or viral infection of the facial nerve.
“Most cases get better, over a period ranging from three weeks to a matter of months. But some people are left with lasting paralysis, which can be disfiguring and can also result in complications affecting the eye, difficulty eating, speaking, and increased sensitivity to loud noise."
He said that, for the best prospect of a full recovery, treatment needs to be commenced within 72 hours of the first symptoms appearing.
"Steroids can reduce inflammation and swelling," he said, "relieving pressure on the facial nerve.
“The real risk to travellers is failure to take symptoms seriously, or to report them quickly and get skilled advice. Medical symptoms are annoying at any time, but when you are away on holiday, out of easy reach of medical care, the temptation to do nothing, carry on and hope for the best may be overwhelming - but should be resisted.”
Karen Johnson, deputy CEO of Facial Palsy UK, said that nearly 30 per cent of people with Bell’s palsy don't make a full recovery and are left with facial pain and spasms.
"Being unable to blink the eye also affects vision and the psychological impact of the condition can be immense," she said. "Surgery is rarely an option for Bell’s palsy patients but a combination of specialist physiotherapy and muscle-relaxing injections can be very effective. Unfortunately there are currently no nationally funded trials investigating treatments or cures for facial palsy, and many people in the UK struggle to access the help they need due to lack of research.”