Nonsurgical Treatment for Posttraumatic Complete Facial Nerve Paralysis

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Abstract

Importance

Current recommendations envisage early surgical exploration for complete facial nerve paralysis associated with temporal bone fracture and unfavorable electrophysiologic features (response to electroneuronography, <5%). However, the evidence base for such a practice is weak, with the potential for spontaneous improvement being unknown, and the expected results from alternative nonsurgical treatment also undefined.

Objective

To document the results of nonsurgical treatment for posttraumatic complete facial paralysis with undisplaced temporal bone fracture and unfavorable electrophysiologic features.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Prospective cohort study recruiting from April 2010 to April 2013 at a tertiary care university hospital. Follow-up continued until 9 months or until complete recovery if earlier. Study group included 28 patients with head injury–associated complete unilateral facial nerve paralysis with unfavorable results of electroneuronography (<5% response) with or without undisplaced temporal bone fracture. Undisplaced temporal bone fractures were documented in 26 patients (24 longitudinal fractures and 2 transverse fractures).

Interventions

Patients received prednisolone, 1 mg/kg, for 3 weeks combined with clinical monitoring every 2 weeks and electromyography monitoring every 4 weeks. As per study protocol, surgical exploration was limited to patients demonstrating motor end plate degeneration on results of electromyography, or having no improvement until 18 weeks.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Facial nerve function was evaluated by the House-Brackmann grading system; Forehead, Eye, Mouth, and Associated defect grading system; and the modified Adour system. Observations were completed at 40 weeks.

Results

Among the 28 patients in the study (3 women and 25 men; mean [SD] age, 32.2 [8.7] years), facial nerve recovery with conservative treatment alone was noted in all patients. No recovery was seen in any patient at the initial 4-week review. The first signs of clinical recovery were noted in 4 patients by 8 weeks, in 27 patients by 12 weeks, and in all patients by 20 weeks. No patient required surgical exploration. At 40 weeks, 27 patients recovered to House-Brackmann grade I/II and 1 patient to grade III. All 24 patients with longitudinal fractures had grade I/II recovery.

Conclusions and Relevance

For undisplaced temporal bone fractures, nonsurgical treatment leads to near-universal recovery to House-Brackmann grade I/II and is superior to reported surgical results. Recovery is delayed and usually first manifests at 8 to 12 weeks after the fracture. In the current era of high-resolution computed tomography, surgical exploration should not be first-line treatment for undisplaced longitudingal temporal bone fractures associated with complete facial nerve paralysis and unfavorable electrophysiologic features.

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