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What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

Justin Bieber recently announced he was diagnosed with the rare disorder after a virus left one side of his face paralyzed.
Credit: Invision
FILE - Justin Bieber attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala on Sept. 13, 2021, in New York. Bieber leads the iHeartRadio Music Award nominations. Justin Bieber says a rare disorder that paralyzed half of the superstar performer’s face is the reason behind his tour postponement. The Grammy winner said he’s suffering from Ramsey Hunt syndrome in video he posed Friday, June 10, 2022 on Instagram. The syndrome causes facial paralysis and affects nerves in the face through a shingles outbreak.(Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

LOS ANGELES — Fans came out in support of music superstar Justin Bieber on Friday after he announced he'd been diagnosed with a rare disorder called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome that's left the right side of his face paralyzed.

In a three-minute video posted to his Instagram page, Bieber was unable to blink one of his eyes or smile with half of his mouth while he apologized for having to cancel his upcoming shows.

“For those frustrated by my cancellations of the next shows, I’m just physically, obviously not capable of doing them,” he said. “My body’s telling me I’ve got to slow down. I hope you guys understand.”

What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which is also referred to as herpes zoster oticus, is a rare neurological disorder that affects the facial nerve near one of your ears. As the Mayo Clinic explains, it's caused by the varicella zoster virus — the same virus that causes chicken pox and shingles.

After chickenpox clears up, the virus can actually live format in your nerves and then reactivate to cause serious inflammation years later. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the condition is named after James Ramsay Hunt, a physician who first described the disorder in 1907. 

What are the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

As we saw in Justin Bieber, the syndrome is characterized by facial paralysis. Another main symptom is a painful blistering rash that affects the ear or mouth, according to NORD.

Additional symptoms can include ringing in the ear, hearing loss, nausea, vomiting and vertigo.

How common is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

NORD says five out of every 100,000 people develop Ramsay Hunt Syndrome each year in the U.S., according to one estimate. The organization adds, however, that the condition often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed as Bells' Palsy, making it hard to determine its true frequency.

Can Ramsay Hunt Syndrome be treated?

Treatment for Ramsay Hunt Syndrome often includes antiviral medications taken in conjunction with corticosteroids, like prednisone, according to NORD.

Those with the condition also need to take steps to avoid corneal injury, as they often aren't able to close one eye properly.

The symptoms can be treated, especially if affected individuals act early, but in some rare cases, some facial paralysis and hearing loss can become permanent, the organization adds.

The chickenpox vaccine for children and the shingles vaccine for adults 50 and older, according to the Mayo Clinic, greatly reduce your risk of developing Ramsay Hunt Syndrome and are recommended for prevention.

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