Newborn and Infant Facial Paralysis Injury Lawyers
Facial paralysis or Bell’s palsy is the term for the partial paralysis of an infant’s face, often on one side or around the lower part of the facial nerve. While this condition can be caused by hereditary factors or viruses, studies have shown that in 88 percent of cases it is caused by birth trauma. And of these cases, 67–91 percent are associated with forceps delivery.
While facial paralysis often goes away on its own, in some cases it can cause lasting damage. Permanent paralysis can mirror developmental injuries like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, affecting the child’s future speech, emotional development and ability to properly chew food. It may also lead to bullying or teasing, which can have unexpected ramifications for a child’s development.
What Causes Facial Paralysis
Infant facial paralysis can be traced back to many causes — most of which are preventable. Broadly, it is caused by birth trauma, inherited conditions or viruses like herpes. A competent and attentive physician should be able to preventatively plan against most causes.
Most often, facial paralysis is directly caused by excessive pressure on the facial nerve just before or at the time of birth. The following contributing factors may help to set the stage:
- A long/difficult pregnancy or labor
- Use of epidural anesthesia
- Use of birth-inducing drugs, which cause stronger contractions
- Maternal history of birth trauma, difficult pregnancies or delivering large babies
- Maternal history of diabetes
- A larger than average baby (fetal macrosomia), which is common for mothers with diabetes or who deliver after their due date
- Head of the child is proportionally larger than the rest of the body
- Pelvis of the mother is small or irregularly shaped
- Use of forceps or vacuum during delivery
- Viral infections
Where warning signs are present, timely interventions such as C-sections may be indicated.
The Symptoms of Facial Paralysis
The face is the most sensitive part of the body. Its hundreds of nerves control facial movements from the blinking of an eye to the movement of the mouth and cheeks. Facial paralysis can broadly impact:
- The motor functions of the face — facial expression and the stapedius muscle, which controls the reflex limiting the sound that reaches the inner ear
- The sensory organs of the face — taste, smell and sight. Facial paralysis sometimes limits the ability of the baby to close its eyes
Image of the primary neurorrhaphy in facial paralysis. Source: Elyse Verboom, Wikipedia
The placement of paralyzed nerves will determine the symptoms of facial paralysis. Some or all of the following effects may signal paralysis:
- Numbness in one side of the face
- Inability to fully close the eye on the affected side
- Constant drooling
- Light and sound sensitivity
- Facial bruising
- Facial asymmetry
- Lack of motion in the forehead
How Should Facial Paralysis Be Treated?
In many cases, well managed infant facial paralysis will resolve on its own. But the standard of care requires careful observation of the condition, as well as tracking any effects that may cause long-term damage.
Good treatment should consider:
- Eye protection and frequent evaluation
- Surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve
- Surgery to correct aesthetic concerns
- Physical therapy
- Speech therapy
Eye care is especially important in cases where the infant is unable to fully close an eye. This may cause the affected eye to become overly dry, leading the child to touch or scratch it. In the worst cases, this can lead to permanent eye problems and blindness.
When to Consult with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
Permanent injuries from mismanaged facial paralysis can result in costly therapy and surgery needs years down the line. With birth injuries stemming from facial paralysis, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. Although filing suit may seem like a secondary concern when dealing with an infant’s health, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania law state that birth injury cases must be filed within two years from the date of injury — other states set their statutes of limitations as short as one year for such cases.
With over 30 years of experience in cases of birth trauma, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice. All birth injury claims are handled on a contingency basis.