The day Sophie lost her smile

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A Sheffield woman has vowed to raise awareness of the true impact of facial palsy.

Sophie Hargreaves chose this week to share her own experience of living with facial disability - as a result of Bells Palsy in 2014 - as part of Facial Palsy Awareness Week.

“I lost my own smile exactly one week after my 17th birthday,” said the 20-year-old, of Grenoside.

“I was given steroids, eye drops and painkillers and sent on my way. It was embarrassing and I didn’t want to leave the house but I did. Luckily I had a lot of support from my friends and family.”

Bell’s palsy, which is often confused with a stroke, is actually the most common cause of facial paralysis, although the cause is unknown. It results in the face dropping suddenly on one side, leaving the person unable to close the eye and smile, and with difficulty speaking, drinking and eating.

Sophie says that more education is urgently needed about facial palsy, as a lack of awareness among health professionals and the general public mean this is often considered a cosmetic condition and not one that can cause lifelong pain and facial disability.

Sophie says: “I was in college at the time and got sent home on multiple occasions due to extreme headaches and pains in my cheek and jawline. I have since developed synkinesis, which causes painful tightness in my face and involuntary movements. My eye now closes when I smile and my mouth moves when I close my eye.

“A lot of job descriptions say they want someone with a welcoming smile, and I feel I’ve been turned down for jobs due to the condition. I always pick myself up and get on with things, but it still hurts.”

Visit www.facialpalsy.org.uk for details.