Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes facial paralysis, is receiving attention after singer Justin Bieber revealed he cannot blink or smile.
The 28-year-old told fans in an Instagram video on Friday he was being treated for the syndrome, which is a complication of shingles.
The singer asked fans to “keep me in your prayers”, and explained how the diagnosis has left him unable to perform, forcing him to postpone his world tour.
What is Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is a rare shingles complication where the virus travels to the inner ear, up the cranial nerves and down the facial nerves, inflaming them. This can cause facial paralysis.
The shingles can also inflame or crush the auditory nerves, causing hearing loss. Other symptoms can include vertigo, a rash around the ear, hearing loss and severe pain in the affected side of the face.
What causes Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
The varicella-zoster virus that causes Ramsay Hunt syndrome is the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. The virus remains in your body and is harmless unless it is reactivated, usually because of stress.
The virus is believed to infect the facial nerve near the inner ear in people with this syndrome, which leads to irritation and swelling of the nerve.
The condition mainly affects adults. In rare cases, it is seen in children.
It is often misdiagnosed as Bell’s palsy, a condition that also causes facial paralysis. Due to the rare nature of Ramsay Hunt syndrome, it is not known exactly how many people have it and those who have it often rely on each other for support and information.
What is the treatment?
Strong anti-inflammatory drugs including steroids (such as prednisone) are usually given to the patient. Antiviral medicines, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir may also be given.
Sometimes strong painkillers are also needed if the pain continues even with steroids. While the face is particularly weak, it is advisable to wear an eye patch to prevent injury to the cornea (corneal abrasion) and other damage to the eye if the eye does not close completely. Some people may use a special eye lubricant at night and artificial tears during the day to prevent the eye from drying out.
People can get better within a few weeks in some circumstances, though for others recovery can take months or years.
Justin Bieber has told fans that he will be using this period to rest so that he can continue doing “what he was born to do”.
While demonstrating that he cannot smile or blink he added: “This is pretty serious, as you can see, obviously my body is telling me I’ve got to slow down.”