Earlier this week, 28-year-old Canadian musician, Justin Bieber, announced to the world that he is suffering from a rare syndrome that causes partial facial paralysis.
“I have this syndrome called Ramsay Hunt syndrome. 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 in an Instagram video that has garnered over seven million likes. “I wish this wasn’t the case but obviously my body is telling me I’ve got to slow down.”
In order to “get back to 100 per cent,” the two-time Grammy award winner has postponed the next few concerts of his tour to recover.
“I’m going to get better,” he said. “I have hope.”
What is Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt syndrome occurs from the reactivation of a viral infection, according to Dr. Charles Nduka, a consultant plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon in Brighton, England.
“Many people will have heard of chicken pox and chicken pox can cause a reactivation of the virus in the form of shingles which is a rash that will form upon the body,” he said in an interview with Reuters. “If that rash occurs near the facial nerve, it can cause a sudden onset of facial paralysis, often linked with some pain around or behind the ear.”
People who develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome usually have another issue going on at the same time that causes their immune system to be suppressed, according to Dr. Nduka, who is also the co-founder of health charity Facial Palsy UK.
Patients with the syndrome will often notice their eye become dry and the inability to keep fluid in their mouth.
“The symptoms that Mr. Bieber has described are classic for facial paralysis,” said Dr. Nduka. “Just the simple thing of brushing your teeth and trying to spit out the tooth paste can be very difficult if one side of the face is paralyzed.”
Ramsay Hunt syndrome has an annual incidence of 3.2 to 4.2 cases per 1,000, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
After viewing the video of the musician, Dr. Nduka said he saw signs of early recovery in Bieber. To treat the syndrome, patients are commonly treated with steroids and antiviral medication, he said.
Retired Canadian politician, Olivia Chow, opened up about being diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome in 2013.
Treatment and recovery
About 75 per cent of patients with the syndrome who receive early treatment are expected to make a full recovery, he added.
“I see patients who are in the entertainment sector frequently with facial paralysis and they have this very specific issue because of their livelihood,” Dr. Nduka added.
Antivral medications such as Valacyclovir (also known as Valtrex), Aciclovir (previously known as Acyclovir, also known as Zovirax) or Famciclovir (also known as Famvir) are usually prescribed for seven to 10 days when Ramsay Hunt syndrome is suspected, according to Facial Palsy UK.
The efficacy of treatment, however, is time sensitive, the CMAJ says.
Five out of every 100,000 people develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome each year in the United States, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).
Most cases affect older adults, especially those over the age of 60 and is extremely rare in children, NORD said.
Derick Wade, a consultant in neurological rehabilitation and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University in the U.K, told Sky News that recovery time can vary significantly.
“If a nerve is damaged in this way, it can recover in some people very quickly, in a few days or a few weeks and in other people can take several months. So it’s a very unpredictable affair,” he said.
— With file from the Associated Press & Reuters