What is Cranial Nerve Palsy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2019
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Cranial nerve palsy is a form of palsy involving one or more of the cranial nerves. Palsy occurs when a muscle becomes paralyzed or someone loses control of it, experiencing erratic muscle movements, spastic jerks, and other problems. Those related to the cranial nerves are usually very easy to identify because they involve the muscles of the face, and people's faces change as a result of the palsy. A patient may find it difficult to smile, to control eye movements, and to engage in other facial expressions.

There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves running directly from the brain to various areas of the face through holes in the skull known as foramens. The cranial nerves allow for a very fine level of control over the facial muscles, allowing people to do everything from making minute eye movements to curling their lips. In people with cranial palsy, control over a muscle or group of muscles is lost, leading to drooping, paralysis, or erratic involuntary movements.

There are a number of reasons why someone might develop cranial nerve palsy. Facial or head trauma can be a cause, as this may directly damage a nerve. People can also experience this condition after a surgery in which a surgeon inadvertently damages one of the cranial nerves. Degenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis can also damage the nerves, as conditions such as diabetes and meningitis. High blood pressure has also been linked with cranial nerve palsy.


When someone recognizes changes in facial expression or movement, a neurologist should be consulted. The neurologist can conduct an examination to determine which cranial nerve or nerves are involved, and to determine the extent of the damage to the nerve. The neurologist can also start to explore potential causes of the cranial nerve palsy. It is important to provide a complete patient history, as information which may not seem relevant can be important for the diagnosis.

Cranial nerve palsy treatment relies on identifying the cause and addressing it. In some cases, it may not be possible to reverse the palsy, due to the damage to the nerve. In other instances, a patient may regain some muscle control. Patients sometimes also find that it helps to work with a physical therapist during the treatment process to work on muscle control and to develop coping skills. It is also important to regularly see a neurologist to determine whether or not there is new damage which may need to be addressed.


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Post 7

I seem to have sixth nerve palsy. I'm seeing double, and it is particularly acute when looking to the right. Just prior to the onset of the diplopia, I had a case of pink eye and was taking antibiotic eye drops. Could there be any connection between the pink eye and the onset of this condition?

So far, the MRI results are negative, Lyme disease negative, diabetes negative, but I do have high cholesterol. I am awaiting myasthenia gravis test results. I've had the condition for a little under a week now. Anyone else out there with a pink eye/sixth nerve palsy connection?

Post 6

I am 36 years old and have had cranial nerve palsy in my right eye for the past two months. This is very frustrating because I work on a computer all day. I've had a CAT scan, MRI, blood work, etc. Everything is normal. I'm not sure if stress took a part in this problem but I pray that this ends soon.

Post 5

I am a 24 year old woman and I have 6th cranial nerve palsy and had it for a week in July followed by excruciating pain in the face and headaches right up until today, and then came back the 6th cranial nerve palsy in september along with burning sensation along my forehead and cheekbone as well.

I've had three mris, two ct scans and two lumbar punctures and numerous blood tests and so far nobody's knows what is causing it! It is so frustrating as I have a two year old son who I can't looke after properly.

I can't work, can't drive, and have been told to just rest even though this has been going on for nearly four months. Anyone else had the same thing? and if so did they find out what it could be?

Post 4

I recently heard about something called trigeminal neuralgia, which causes a person to experience intense, terrible pain in their face.

That sounds so scary to me -- I can't imagine being suddenly caught up in something like that.

I think the worst part is that trigeminal neuralgia has no symptoms other than the intense facial pain, and no known cause.

I really sympathize with anyone out there who has to deal with this, and I hope that your treatments for trigeminal neuralgia work for you!

Post 3

My father was affected by VI (6th) cranial nerve palsy, which caused him to be unable to move his eyes properly.

People would think he was rude because he couldn't look them in the eye when they were speaking with him, but it was just because of his palsy.

So if you happen to encounter somebody that has problems with moving their eyes, try to be understanding -- 6th cranial nerve palsy causes enough problems for a person without having to deal with social ramifications as well.

Post 2

@anon90867 -- Sorry to hear about your problems. I don't really have a lot of experience when it comes to palsies, but have you had your doctor check you out for Bell's Palsy of the cranial nerve? That affects the 7th cranial nerve, and can be caused by chemical exposure.

This sometimes shows up as partial facial paralysis -- are you having paralysis or tics?

Again, I'm not a doctor or anything, but I'd have your doctor check you out for Bell's palsy, especially if you have been exposed to heavy duty chemicals.

Post 1

I am not diabetic, nor do I have high blood pressure, nor any of the causes listed that would cause cranial nerve disorders, yet I have had third and seventh cranial palsies four years apart. Can exposure to chemicals cause the disorders?

I have peripheral neuropathy of the extremities and spinal column. Is there a connection? I saw an ophthalmologist for the eye palsy, which was serious, and I didn't get a full explanation of what caused it based on the lab works results. My eye healed on its own, and I took pain medication for the excruciating pain I experienced in my right eye. I am concerned that it will happen again. I am taking Gabapentin for the neuropathy.

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