What is Ramsay Hunt syndrome, the disease that affects the singer?
When the virus is reactivated, it usually appears in only one part of the body (often the torso) as a painful rash and blisters called shingles.
However, when the reactivation affects a nerve in the head called the facial nerve, it is called Ramsay Hunt syndrome, after James Ramsay Hunt, the physician who first described the disorder in 1907. Ramsey Hunt syndrome affects typically five in every 100,000 people each year. , and anyone who has had chickenpox can potentially develop it.
How it causes damage
The facial nerve leaves the brain to travel to the face through a very narrow channel called the facial canal. There is one on each side of the brain to supply the left and right sides of the face. This narrow bony tunnel is inside a very dense piece of bone, so even the slightest inflammation can cause the nerve to be pinched. And because it’s located deep in the skull, it can be very difficult to treat.
For part of its journey, the facial nerve travels with the vestibulocochlear nerve, which is involved in hearing and balance, which is why some people with Ramsay Hunt syndrome also have hearing problems, such as tinnitus, and sometimes balance.
Symptoms of this syndrome vary from case to case, but there is usually paralysis of the facial nerve that supplies the muscles of facial expression, making it difficult to smile or frown. It can also limit the ability to blink, and some people have slurred speech and changes in their tastes.
A painful rash usually appears on and around the ear, on the same side as the paralysis. This rash is a telltale sign that it is not Bell’s palsy (another type of facial palsy).
One of the complications of Ramsay Hunt syndrome is the potential for damage to the cornea of the eye (where light passes through for vision). This is because of the lack of blinking, which helps lubricate the eye. The facial nerve also supplies the lacrimal gland, which can also be paralyzed. This gland produces the fluid that lubricates the eye.
People with Ramsay Hunt syndrome may need to lubricate their eyes with artificial tears. And the affected eye should be closed with tape at night.
Treatment is usually with antiviral drugs, steroids, and painkillers. The chances of complete recovery are better if treatment is started early. If treatment is given within three days of the onset of symptoms, about 70% of people recover completely. But if the treatment is not started within this time, the chances of complete recovery drop to 50%.
We can be sure that Bieber is receiving good treatment and will hopefully make a full recovery soon.