Earlier this week, 28-year-old Canadian musician Justin Bieber announced to the world that he suffers from a rare syndrome that causes partial facial paralysis.
“I have this syndrome called Ramsay Hunt syndrome. As you can see, this eye doesn’t blink. I can’t smile on this side of my face. This nostril won’t move,” he said in an Instagram video that attracted more than seven million likes “I wish this wasn’t the case, but obviously my body is telling me to slow down.”
In order to “return to 100 percent,” the two-time Grammy winner has postponed the upcoming concerts of his tour to recover.
“I’m going to get better,” he said. “I have hope.”
Justin Bieber reveals he has facial paralysis due to Ramsay Hunt syndrome
What is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt syndrome arises from the reactivation of a viral infection, according to Dr. Charles Nduka, a consultant plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon in Brighton, England.
“Many people have heard of chickenpox, and chickenpox can cause a reactivation of the virus in the form of shingles, which is a rash that will form on 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 related to some pain around or behind the ear.”
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People who develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome usually have another problem at the same time that is causing their immune system suppression, according to Dr. Nduka, who is also the co-founder of the Facial Palsy UK charity.
Patients with the syndrome will often notice that their eyes become dry and the inability to keep moisture in their mouths.
“The symptoms Mr. Bieber described are classic for facial paralysis,” said Dr. Nduka. “Just brushing your teeth and trying to spit out the toothpaste 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).
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After watching the musician’s video, Dr. Nduka said he saw signs of early recovery in Bieber. To treat the syndrome, patients are often treated with steroids and antiviral medications, he said.
Retired Canadian politician, Olivia Chow, was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome in 2013.
About 75 percent of patients with the syndrome who receive early treatment are expected to make a full recovery, he added.
“I see patients in the entertainment industry often with facial paralysis and they have this very specific problem because of their livelihood,” added Dr. Nduka to it.
Antiviral medications such as Valaciclovir (also known as Valtrex), Aciclovir (formerly 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 Paralysis UK.
However, the efficacy of the treatment is time-sensitive, the CMAJ says.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), five out of every 100,000 people develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome in the United States each year.
Most cases affect older adults, especially those over age 60, and is extremely rare in children, NORD said.
Derick Wade, a neurological rehabilitation consultant and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, told Sky News that recovery time can vary significantly.
“When a nerve is damaged in this way, in some people it can recover very quickly, in a few days or a few weeks, and in other people it can take several months. So it’s a very unpredictable affair,” he said.
† With file from Associated Press & Reuters
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