October 7, 2022
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What is Ramsay Hunt Disease and Why You Should Care

Just a few months ago, pop star Justin Bieber took to Instagram to announce that he was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to know what the fuss was about. Everyone was asking, what is Ramsay Hunt Disease? And why did he decide to cancel all his tours because of it?

Truth is, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is quite a bit tricky.

For one, it's a rare condition that affects only a handful of folks. It also rarely shows up in young people.

So today, we'll take a look at what Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is and why should you, as a caregiver, care about it.

Let's find out. 

What is Ramsay Hunt Disease?

Ramsay Hunt Disease

Ramsay Hunt Disease is caused by the virus herpes zoster oticus, which attacks the facial nerve near one of a person's ears. 

The virus that causes Ramsay Hunt Disease is the same as chickenpox. After it clears up, the chickenpox virus stays in the body and reactivates later in life. 

When it does, the virus targets the nervous system, specifically the facial nerves. 

Statistics show that about 5 out of every 100,000 people are affected by Ramsay Hunt Disease. 

Both men and women get affected in equal numbers. Most of those affected by the virus are above sixty years old. 

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is also often mistaken as Bell's Palsyacoustic neuromaor trigeminal neuralgia.

As a caregiver, you need to know the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. 

It is often painful and uncomfortable and can affect your loved ones' demeanor. And because it affects the ears, this disease can cause more problems for seniors in the long run. 

The ears are critical in maintaining balance. And if there are ear issues, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and vertigo. 

That's why caregivers must recognize what is Ramsay Hunt Disease and what it's not. 

What are the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt Disease?

It can be difficult for doctors to diagnose Ramsay Hunt Disease. Its symptoms don't always show at the same time. 

A detailed medical history and thorough clinical evaluation are usually required to make the diagnosis final. 

Sample fluids from facial blisters and rashes are also tested to confirm the diagnosis.

However, the most obvious symptoms are:

  • Painful, red, fluid-filled rashes on the face and around the ears
  • Paralysis or muscle weakness on the side of the affected ear
  • Pain inside the ears 
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears 
  • Vertigo
  • Hearing loss 
  • Difficulty in sleeping and closing the eyes
  • Dry eyes and mouth 
  • Numbness and dryness in the eyes and mouth 
  • Change or loss of taste 

Ramsay Hunt syndrome mnemonics
Image from FacialPalsy.org.UK

The good thing about Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is that it's not contagious.

But because the disease is a reactivation of the dormant chickenpox virus, it's best to keep those affected away from pregnant women and babies. 

People with weakened immune systems and those who have never had chickenpox should also keep away.

It is important to watch out for long-term complications like recurrences, permanent nerve damage and paralysis, and eye damage. 

Most doctors would say that it needs time to heal. However, pain management may be needed as you wait. 

Ramsay Hunt Disease can also lead to postherpetic neuralgia. This condition causes the nerve fibers to remember the trauma, causing pain that can last long after the symptoms have faded. 

How is Ramsay Hunt Disease treated?

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

One of the surefire ways to avoid Ramsay Hunt Disease is to get vaccinated against chickenpox. 

Children are given this vaccine at an early age. In addition, people aged 50 and above are also given shingles vaccine to avoid contracting Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. 

Treating it, however, is a different story. 

Ramsay Hunt Disease can be extremely painful. Patients who have experienced it often complain of sores inside the mouth and in the inner ear. 

The pain can affect their daily activities and even reduce the ability to sleep. 

That's why it's critical to diagnose it early on. 

Treatment can vary depending on the symptoms of each patient. For example, some experience painful lesions on the face and are given steroids to manage the inflammation. 

Some doctors even provide medication for reducing neuralgic pain and vertigo suppressants. 

Antiviral medication is also prescribed to patients. Some even get botox shots, especially for those with eye problems. 

The healing period may vary from person to person. And if not diagnosed early on, nerve damage may be irreversible. 

The virus can even spread to the nervous system, including the spinal cord and the brain. 

Learn more about spinal degeneration here. 

Final Thoughts 

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is not a simple condition, especially for the elderly. 

It is painful, uncomfortable, and can recur at any given time. 

That's why we caregivers need to keep them strong and healthy so they can avoid developing Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. 

In the next blog post, we will share more tips on avoiding Ramsay Hunt Syndrome in the elderly, so stay tuned. 

That's all for today.

Take care, keep mom safe and have a great day!


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