Freddie Burns thought he was having a stroke when he first suffered paralysis down the left side of his face.
The Leicester and England fly-half was later diagnosed with Bell’s palsy — a condition that was caused by cabin pressure on a flight home from Jamaica in the summer.
It affects one in 5,000 people and left Burns fearing the worst when he lost control of his facial muscles at his flat in Leicester, unable to drink or close his eyes.
Leicester Tigers fly-half Freddie Burns has not played since October because of a broken jaw
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in one side of the face. The condition is the most common cause of facial paralysis.
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy can vary from person to person. The exact cause of the condition is unknown but could possibly be due to a viral infection.
‘I popped downstairs at about 3am to get a glass of water and it just started pouring down my face,’ Burns told Sportsmail. ‘It was quite scary. At first I thought I was having a stroke.
‘I’d been on holiday in Jamaica with my brother and, the day after we landed back in the UK, I went out for dinner with my girlfriend’s family. Her sister looked at me across the table and said, “Freddie, why are you winking at me?”
‘My eyes were quite heavy and, after going to bed, I popped downstairs to get that drink. I couldn’t move half my face or lips and that’s when it started. The next day I went to the doctor and he said it was Bell’s palsy.’
Burns was told in June that it would take between three weeks and nine months to recover from the nerve dysfunction, which is still affecting the 25-year-old.
But despite being conscious of the condition that can also cause impaired speech, dizziness and earache, he has refused to let it affect his day-to-day routine.
‘By the Saturday I was go-karting with my family with an eye patch on,’ said Burns. ‘On the Sunday I went surfing with scuba-diving goggles on, looking like a complete pillock! I got no sympathy whatsoever from the boys back at Leicester. Just hysterical laughing.
‘I wore an eye patch for two months because I couldn’t blink or close my eye. I had to use my hand to close my eye, so my eyelid didn’t dry out. I didn’t feel ill or unwell — apart from exercise putting my heart rate up — so it’s just been a waiting game.’
Having not played since October because of a broken jaw, Burns is hoping to make a comeback against Munster on Sunday in the European Champions Cup.
The five-cap international jokes his face has taken ‘an absolute battering’ over the last six months, but is hoping to rediscover his form ahead of the Six Nations.
Burns is hoping to make his Tigers comeback against Munster in the European Champions Cup on Sunday
‘I’m not going to not play rugby because of Bell’s palsy,’ said Burns. ‘I struggled in a pre-season game away at Newcastle on a Friday night because I couldn’t squint my eye in the floodlights.
‘I just need to get back from my jaw injury now. It’s been a tough one for the old face. I’ve not thought too much about England, but there’s a new coach and a clean slate. I’m still confident that I can perform at that level so hopefully I can be in or around the squad.’