“Ramsay Hunt syndrome is treatable, but see a doctor early enough,” says neurologist
A few days after canceling three shows of his world tour, the Canadian pop singer justin bieber announced on Saturday June 11 that he suffered from temporary facial paralysis. He said he had to cancel his tour dates because he was “physically, obviously not able to do them”.
In an Instagram video, Bieber revealed he had been diagnosed with a condition called ‘Ramsay Hunt Syndrome‘, which had completely paralyzed the right side of his face. “As you can see, this eye is not blinking. I can’t smile on that side of my face… So there’s complete paralysis on that side of my face,” he said.
What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt syndrome, or herpes zoster, is a rare neurological disorder that typically results in facial nerve paralysis and a rash that usually affects the ear or mouth. It sometimes causes ringing in the ears, or tinnitus and hearing loss.
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The disease is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults – varicella zoster virus. It usually occurs when an outbreak of shingles 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 severe cases.
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Dr. Vivek Kumar, Senior Director, Neurology, Max Super Specialty Hospital, Patparganj says, “Ramsay Hunt syndrome is not uncommon in India as most of us have had chickenpox at some point in our lives . What happens is that the disease subsides but the virus is not eliminated. It becomes dormant and lives in your nerves. Any trigger could reactivate it at some point in your life and then affect the facial nerves. In India, the incidence rate is five cases per lakh every year. It’s common among the vulnerable older population, but younger people can also develop symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
Dr. Kumar says it starts as a reddish patch that can flare up into a persistent rash. “Sometimes the rash penetrates the eardrum, ear canal, earlobe, tongue and roof of the mouth on the side of the affected nerve. And as the disease progresses, there has watery eyes, facial weakness and deviation caused by numb nerves (you may not be able to close one of your eyes or your mouth, with food running down your side), earaches and decreased hearing You also feel dizzy.
Is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome contagious? What are the causes?
No, but reactivation of the virus can cause an attack of chickenpox in people who have never had the disease or who have not been vaccinated. “Most people don’t know it, but the most common triggers for this syndrome are stress and decreased immunity,” says Dr. Kumar.
Can Ramsay Hunt syndrome be treated?
“It’s completely treatable and recovery can take two to three weeks. It is very important to see a doctor within three days of the onset of symptoms, otherwise residual weakness may bother you for longer,” adds Dr. Kumar. People with Ramsay Hunt are usually prescribed antiviral drugs and, in more severe cases, steroids. In his Instagram post, Bieber said he does facial exercises for faster recovery.
What if the condition persists for a long period of time?
Dr. Kumar advises avoiding delays. And just in case the condition is of a serious variety, he asks patients to pay attention to certain markers. “In complicated cases, one of the eyes may not close properly. Thus, you must avoid corneal damage and keep the affected eye lubricated. Better, wear an eye patch if possible. Sometimes the eyes can be affected to such an extent that you may appear to blink when performing certain facial functions like eating food. Sometimes patients complain of temporary hearing loss. It is therefore absolutely important to treat this condition as soon as possible. Otherwise, it has an impact on the person’s self-confidence,” he says.
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