Midwest Facial Plastic Surgery

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Striking a Nerve

Striking a Nerve blog img

An Area Expert is changing the lives of patients with Facial Nerve Paralysis and the education of the physicians who treat them.

Imagine waking up one day and losing the ability to greet a loved one with a smile, to close your eyes against the glare of the sun, or to struggle to keep food in your mouth at breakfast. Unfortunately, this is a reality for thousands of people who suffer from Facial Nerve Paralysis. Although the exact cause of this condition can vary, the resulting negative impact on a patient’s well-being is universally devastating. One area expert is using his skills as both a surgeon and an educator to tackle this condition head on and make a colossal impact on the lives of the patients he treats.

Dr. Garrett Griffin, a board-certified Facial Plastic Surgeon at Midwest Facial Plastic Surgery in Woodbury and Eagan, Minnesota, was recently published in a new medical textbook, Diseases and Disorders of the Orbit and Ocular Adnexa. Released last month, he is the principal author of the chapter on The Facial Nerve. This textbook is targeted towards educating ophthalmologists and primary care physicians who often encounter patients affected by Facial Nerve Paralysis.

Considered a national expert on this condition, Dr. Griffin was sought out for his expertise in diagnosing and managing facial paralysis and facial nerve injury. “I was honored to help educate my colleagues in other specialties about this important topic,” he states. “The advancements in this field are progressing rapidly and I wanted to emphasize the emotional impact this condition can have on patients, as this allows their physicians to extend more comprehensive care,” Dr. Griffin continues.

The facial nerve is responsible for controlling all of the muscles of facial expression. As a result, when this nerve is injured, patients have difficulty with common movements such as smiling, closing their eyes, and keeping food in their mouths. This can make social interaction difficult and uncomfortable for the patient. “Studies have shown that patients with facial nerve paralysis have difficulty expressing their emotions accurately. This often leads to significant isolation and depression,” shares Dr. Griffin.

Bell’s palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis, responsible for up to 70% of cases. The cause of Bell’s palsy is not completely understood, but its origins are likely linked to a virus that infects the facial nerve. “The infection causes the nerve to swell within its bony canal at the skull base, “explains Dr. Griffin. He continues, “The bone obviously can’t stretch, so the swelling cuts off the blood supply to the nerve fibers and the nerve, in turn, cannot function properly.”

85% of people with Bell’s palsy will recover to normal facial movement within a year, but 15% of people are left with facial tightness and unintended, or uncontrolled, facial movement, called synkinesis. Fortunately, Botox and injectable fillers like Juvederm and Voluma can be used in combination to improve facial control and symmetry in patients with synkinesis.

“Patients are overjoyed to learn that there are options available to restore balance and symmetry to their face, “says Dr. Griffin excitedly. He continues, “It is so gratifying, as a physician, to be able to use my cosmetic and surgical skills in tandem to help my patients feel more confident. Some of these options were not even available 10 years ago!”

Perhaps the most important message of Dr. Griffin’s chapter in Diseases and Disorders of the Orbit and Ocular Adnexa, is that 30% of facial paralysis cases are not caused by Bell’s palsy. In these instances, it is important to look for other, possibly more serious causes, such as Lyme disease, benign tumors, or cancer. Dr. Griffin recounts that “some of the saddest cases I have seen are patients with a tumor at their skull base who were told for years that they had Bell’s palsy, and now the cancer is much more difficult or impossible to treat. I really wanted to use this publication to help prevent this from happening in the future.”

A unique aspect of Dr. Griffin’s contribution to this textbook is that he not only provides a summary of the latest surgical techniques to help restore facial symmetry and movement in patients with permanent facial paralysis, but highlights the esthetic procedures that can enhance the lives of these patients. He emphasizes that today there are many cutting edge and reliable surgeries that can be used to help these patients close their eyes, breathe better, look better, and smile.

“These are incredibly rewarding cases, and some of my favorite surgeries to perform,” Dr. Griffin reflects. “Restoring patients’ facial function and improving their appearance gives them the confidence to re-enter society and live a more complete and fulfilling life,” he concludes.

Schedule your consultation with Dr. Griffin today by calling 651.632.9700.

Click here to order your copy of Diseases and Disorders of the Orbit and Ocular Adnexa.