Ramsay hunt syndrome: symptoms, causes, treatments

Ramsay hunt syndrome: symptoms, causes, treatments

Ramsay Hunt syndrome, or Herpes Zoster Oticus is a neurological disorder in which the Varicella-zoster virus infects specific nerves in the head - it is an infection of the facial nerve.

The Varicella-zoster virus can also cause chicken pox. Patients who have had chicken pox carry the dormant virus in their nerves. Some years later it may become active again, infecting the facial nerve, causing Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

The patient typically has a painful rash and facial muscle weakness. Some people may become alarmed during the onset of symptoms, and wonder whether they have had a stroke.

Ramsay Hunt syndrome is usually effectively treated. In some cases, however, patients may have permanent facial muscle weakness and hearing loss. The risk of complications is significantly reduced if the individual receives prompt and proper treatment. The longer the person has to wait for treatment, the smaller are his/her chances of making a complete recovery.

The syndrome was first described in detail by James Ramsay Hunt, an American from Philadelphia in 1907.

The Office of Rare Disease of th National Institutes of Health, USA, classifies Ramsay Hunt Syndrome as a rare disease (fewer than 200,000 cases in the USA). The majority of doctors will never come across a case of Ramsay Hunt syndrome during their careers.

Symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome

A symptom is something the patient senses and describes, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor notice. For example, drowsiness may be a symptom while dilated pupils may be a sign.

Signs and symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome include:

  • Loss of taste, or a considerable alteration in how taste is perceived
  • A red rash, often painful with blisters on the tongue, palate, inner/outer ear, and eardrum
  • Vertigo
  • One of the eyes may be harder to close
  • Continuous earache
  • Palsy (facial weakness) on the same side as the affected ear
  • Deafness in the affected ear
  • Tinnitus
  • Facial expressions may be altered, such as a crooked smile/grin
  • The face drops.

Risk factors for Ramsay Hunt syndrome

A risk factor is something which increases the likelihood of developing a condition or disease. For example, obesity significantly raises the risk of developing diabetes type 2. Therefore, obesity is a risk factor for diabetes type 2.

Individuals over the age of 60 who have had chicken pox have a higher risk of developing this syndrome than other age groups. Ramsay Hunt syndrome has been known to affect children, but extremely rarely.

Ramsay Hunt syndrome is not in itself contagious, but an affected person can be the source of chicken pox for those who have never had it (chicken pox).

People with Ramsay Hunt syndrome should wait until their blisters scab over before being in contact with individuals with weakened immune systems, those who have never had chicken pox, infants and pregnant mothers.

On the next page we look at the diagnosis of Ramsay Hunt syndrome, the available treatments and the possible complications caused by Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

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Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice