Justin Bieber calls Ramsay Hunt Syndrome 'pretty serious:' What are the symptoms?

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Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber arrives for the 64th Annual Grammy Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on April 3, 2022. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
Justin Bieber revealed that he is suffering from a rare condition that has paralyzed one side of his face. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Justin Bieber shared a health update with fans after cancelling two concerts in Toronto last week.

On Friday, the 28-year-old pop superstar posted a three-minute video to Instagram informing fans that he was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a condition that affects facial nerves and causes paralysis.

"As you can see, this eye is not blinking...so there's full paralysis on this side of my face," he said in the video. "So for those frustrated by my cancellations of the next shows, I'm just physically, obviously, incapable of doing them."

The video left many fans wondering about the condition and what they can do to prevent the virus. Read on to learn more about Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, including risks, symptoms and treatment options.

What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is a rare neurological disorder characterized facial paralysis. It occurs when the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles, infects a facial nerve near one of your ears.

The virus can lay dormant in your body and reactivate years later as Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. The reason why the virus reactivates and produces symptoms is unknown.

"When it reactivates it causes irritation and inflammation of the facial nerve that causes some of the dramatic things we've been seeing in regards to facial paralysis and other symptoms," Sunnybrook Health Science Centre neurologist Dr. Matthew Burke said in an interview with CBC News. "Symptoms from the syndrome can very from patient to patient."

Who is at risk of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

Despite being a rare virus, the condition affects both men and women equally. Anyone who has had chickenpox or shingles can develop the syndrome. However, most cases affect older adults, especially those over 60 and rarely affects children.

"It's quite rare. Estimates in the U.S. say it affects 5-10 people 100,000 per year," explained Burke.

Justin Bieber Varicella zoster or chickenpox virus, 3D illustration. A herpes virus which cause chickenpox and shingles
Anyone who has had chickenpox or shingles carries the varicella-zoster virus and is at risk of developing Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. (Photo via Getty Images)

What are the signs and symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

The symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome vary from case to case. Those affected usually experience paralysis of the facial nerve and a painful rash around the ear.

According to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the rash can attack the tongue and roof of the mouth. People with the syndrome can also suffer from vertigo, the sensation of dizziness or things spinning around you.

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome often leads to hearing loss, and like Bieber, it can also cause facial droop, weakness or paralysis on the side of the face attacked by the virus. This can make closing one eye, eating and making facial expressions extremely difficult.

How is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome treated?

Prompt treatment of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome can reduce the risk of complications, which can include permanent facial muscle weakness and deafness.

"The majority of patients if treated quickly within the first three days since symptom onset can have a full recovery," Burke explained to CBC News. "In some patients that could take weeks or months, but in some patients they may not fully recover."

"If you have acute onset neurological symptoms you need to present yourself to the emergency department for evaluation quickly...Usually treatment will begin in emergency, which is typically antiviral medications or anti-inflammatory agents like steroids," Burke added.

Hearing loss. Mature woman with hearing problems touching ear with hand. Side view, earache
Those affected usually experience paralysis of the facial nerve, hearing loss and a painful rash around the ear. (Photo via Getty Images)

Despite the scare, Bieber assured fans that he is "gonna get better" and that he was doing facial exercises to get his face back to normal.

"It will go back to normal — it's just time and we don't know how much time, but it's going to be OK," he said in the video. "Obviously my body's telling me I gotta slow down. I hope you guys understand and I'll be using this time to just rest and relax and get back to 100 per cent."

How can I prevent Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

According to Mount Sinai, there is no known way to prevent Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. However, treating the condition with medicine soon as possible can give patients the best chance at recovery.

"If you have any symptoms it's always better to get it checked out," said Burke.

You can also choose to get vaccinated against shingles which is effective in preventing the condition and further complications associated with it.

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