What is Ramsay Hunt syndrome? Justin Bieber gives health update after cancelling tour
Justin Bieber officially cancelled the remaining tour dates on his Justice world tour at the start of March, after his Ramsay Hunt syndrome diagnosis and facial paralysis.
The Canadian was forced to postpone the world tour several times while he tried to recover from the illness.
He explained: “The exhaustion overtook me and I realised that I need to make my health the priority right now. So I’m going to take a break from touring for the time being.”
To the joy of his fans, Bieber seems to be doing better as he went on Instagram to share a video of him moving both sides of his face.
But what exactly is the Ramsay Hunt syndrome? Here is everything we know.
What is Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt syndrome (RHS) is a condition caused by viral reactivation. “It is one of 60 causes of facial palsy or facial paralysis,” said Charles Nduka, a consultant plastic reconstructive surgeon who specialises in facial paralysis and who founded health charity Facial Palsy UK.
The charity’s website explains that RHS is a complication of shingles – which is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox – and the term describes the symptoms of a shingles infection affecting the facial nerve.
What are the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
Mr Nduka said that RHS is often misdiagnosed as Bell’s Palsy – the most common cause of facial paralysis – and it also causes difficulties in diagnosis because of its varied presentation. However, the first sign of RHS is often a small rash, as well as weakness on the affected side of the face and loss of facial expression.
“It’s not always obvious, but you could have a really tiny patch of a rash inside your ear. It could be inside your mouth, or your tongue, in your throat, it could be anywhere or even not visible at all.”
He added that patients can also suffer from problems with their balance, earache and chronic pain.
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is NOT the same as Bell's palsy. It may look similar but it is different and is accompanied by other debilitating symptoms. See our mnemonic for more information. We hope @justinbieber feels much better soon.#RamsayHuntSyndrome #FOAMed pic.twitter.com/TI5H4SsAqB
— Facial Palsy UK (@facialpalsyuk) June 11, 2022
What causes Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
“One of the things that is quite clear, certainly from talking to lots and lots of patients over the years, is that usually before it comes on, there’s some sort of intercurrent illness or stress, the immune system is a bit depressed,” Mr Nduka said.
“Oftentimes people are experiencing other issues socially or physically and are run down, and so much in the same way as with shingles you get this reactivation of the virus when the body’s immune system is no longer able to keep it under control.”
Bieber described his own experience with the condition as “my body is telling me I gotta slow down”.
How is Ramsay Hunt syndrome treated?
It is vital that the type of facial paralysis is identified correctly early on, because the treatment for RHS differs from that for Bell’s Palsy.
Mr Nduka explained: “With Bell’s Palsy, patients need to receive oral steroids within 72 hours of onset to maximise the chance of recovery. With Ramsay Hunt syndrome, they must receive steroids also, but in addition they must receive antiviral treatments, again as soon as possible after the onset. If they don’t receive those then their rate of recovery drops from about 70% down to 50%.”
He also warned patients not to do unsupervised and excessive facial exercises, because “they can actually cause the recovery to become disorganised and end up with the face actually worse off than if they had just left things as they were to recover slowly”.
“It’s really important people just do what’s recommended and no more because it’ll do more harm than good,” he said.
The Facial Palsy UK website lists information about official exercises to help recovery from Ramsay Hunt syndrome.