On Friday, Justin Bieber announced that he had Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a rare disease that paralyzed half of his face.
“It’s because of this virus attacking the nerve in my ear and my facial nerves and causing paralysis in my face,” Mr. Bieber, the pop singer, said in a video posted to his Instagram account, making a gesture beside his head. “As you can see, this eye is not blinking. I can’t smile on this side of my face. This nostril will not move.
He said he would cancel his upcoming tour dates, as he is “physically, obviously not able to do them”.
We spoke to health experts about the causes and treatments for the condition.
What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is a neurological condition caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults. The virus can linger in your body for a lifetime, even long after you’ve recovered from chickenpox, and reawaken to irritate and inflame the nerves in your face.
“The nerves that run through your face go through fairly narrow bone channels, and when they’re inflamed, they swell and lose their ability to function,” said Dr Anna Wald, an infectious disease specialist at the University School of Medicine. University of Washington. .
The disease affects men and women equally and can lead to paralysis on one side of the face and painful, blistering rashes. It is more common in older people, and some patients experience changes in their hearing, perhaps hearing louder sounds in one ear than another or developing tinnitus (a chronic ringing in the ears) or even deafness in one ear. Ear and facial pain are usually part of the syndrome, and some patients may experience dizziness.
Only 5 to 10 out of 100,000 people will develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome each year. “It can happen to anyone,” said Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at downtown Mount Sinai in New York. “But it’s not something people should be afraid of.”
The syndrome is officially known as otic shingles; its most common name comes from neurologist James Ramsay Hunt, who first described the condition.
According to the researchers, it can take a long time for people with the syndrome to receive an accurate diagnosis. The term Ramsay Hunt is notoriously vague, and the disease can have symptoms similar to Bell’s palsy, which can also induce facial paralysis. Doctors usually diagnose Ramsay Hunt syndrome by identifying small blisters that have appeared in a patient’s ear, Dr. Wald said.
How is Ramsay Hunt syndrome treated?
Most people with Ramsay Hunt recover fully, although the duration of illness can vary, said Dr. Michael Ison, professor of infectious diseases at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “Some people, it takes weeks. Some people, it takes months,” he said. In rare cases, however, facial paralysis or hearing loss may be permanent.
Treatment for Ramsay Hunt usually involves taking antiviral medications. Some patients may also be prescribed a steroid, Dr. Wald said. Physiotherapy is generally not recommended for patients, she said, but would not be harmful.
Mr Bieber said in his Instagram post that he was doing facial exercises as part of his recovery. “I need to go rest,” he said, “so I can get my face back where it’s supposed to be.”