‘Ramsay Hunt syndrome is treatable but consult a doctor early enough,’ says neurologist




Days after cancelling three shows in his world tour, Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber announced on Saturday (June 11) that he was suffering from temporary facial paralysis. He said he had to cancel his tour dates as he was “physically, obviously not capable of doing them.”

In an Instagram video, Bieber revealed he had been diagnosed with a condition called ‘Ramsay Hunt Syndrome’, which had fully paralysed the right side of his face. “As you can see, this eye is not blinking. I can’t smile on this side of my face… So there’s full paralysis on this side of my face,” he said.

What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, or herpes zoster oticus, is a rare neurological disorder which usually leads to paralysis of the facial nerve and a rash that generally affects the ear or mouth. It sometimes causes ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, and hearing loss.

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The condition is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults — the varicella zoster virus. It generally occurs when a shingles outbreak affects the facial nerve near your ear. Most commonly known to leave a painful shingles rash, the syndrome can also cause facial paralysis and hearing loss in more serious cases.

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A post shared by Justin Bieber (@justinbieber)

Dr Vivek Kumar, senior director, Neurology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Patparganj, says, “The Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is not uncommon in India as most of us have had chicken pox at some stage of our lives. What happens is that the disease abates but the virus isn’t flushed out. It becomes dormant and lives in your nerves. Any trigger could reactivate it at some point in your life and then it affects the facial nerves. In India, the incidence rate is five cases per lakh every year. It is common among the vulnerable older population but the younger lot too can develop symptoms.”

What are the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

Dr Kumar says that it begins with a reddish patch which may inflame into a persistent rash. “Sometimes the rash gets into the eardrum, ear canal, ear lobe, tongue, and roof of the mouth on the side with the affected nerve. And as the condition progresses, there is watering of the eyes, facial weakness and deviation caused by numbed nerves (you may not be able to close one of your eyes or mouth, with food dribbling by the side), ear ache and decreased hearing. You also get vertigo.

Is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome contagious? What causes it?

No, but reactivation of the virus can cause a bout of chickenpox in people who haven’t previously had the illness or been vaccinated for it. “Most people don’t know this but the most common triggers of this syndrome are stress and decreased immunity,” says Dr Kumar.

Can Ramsay Hunt Syndrome be treated?

“It is very much treatable and recovery can take two to three weeks. It is very important to consult a doctor within three days of the onset of the symptoms, otherwise residual weakness can bother you for a longer time period,” adds Dr Kumar. People suffering from Ramsay Hunt are generally prescribed anti-viral medication and in more serious cases, steroids. In his Instagram post, Bieber said that he was practising facial exercises for faster recovery.

What should one do if the condition persists for a longer period of time?

Dr Kumar advises that we avoid delay. And just in case the condition is of a severe variety, he asks patients to watch out for certain markers. “In complicated cases, one of the eyes may not shut properly. So, you have to avoid corneal injury and keep the affected eye lubricated. Better, wear an eye patch if possible. Sometimes, the eyes may be affected to an extent that you may appear to be winking while performing some facial function like eating food. Sometimes, patients complain of temporary hearing loss. So, it is absolutely important to address this condition as early as possible. Otherwise, it impacts the person’s self-confidence,” he says.


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