Understanding Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

An infection related to chickenpox

Beauty portrait neck
Chev Wilkinson / Getty Images

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome is a condition experienced by patients where an infection caused by shingles affects the nerve in one's face, near his/her ears. Not only does this condition present itself with physical symptoms, including the painful rash consisting of fluid-filled blisters seen in shingles, but it can lead to the individual having some paralysis in the affected facial region or even loss of hearing in the affected ear as well.

What Causes Ramsay Hunt Syndrome?

The underlying nature of this syndrome is the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus. When chickenpox heals, the virus lies dormant in one's body. If this virus flares up and activates once again, the result is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

You can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the disease is not contagious. However, activation of the varicella-zoster virus in an affected individual, and this individual coming in contact with others, can cause them to develop chickenpox. Thus, it is in the public's interest to avoid physical contact with those that have this disease. Individuals with weak immune systems, newborn babies, and pregnant women should especially stay away from individuals with this condition.

Ramsay Hunt Syndrome: Diagnosing and Preventing Complications

Although this disease stems from the same virus that causes chickenpox, a disease that is not very serious, Ramsay Hunt Syndrome can lead to very serious complications that can persist or affect one for the rest of his/her life.

The most serious of effects include permanent loss of hearing and facial weakness, damage to one's eyes causing incomplete eye closure, or even very painful postherpetic neuralgia. This neuralgia is what primarily causes the pain associated with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome due to the fact that the shingles infection can damage nerve fibers, negatively affecting the messages sent by them.

Luckily, the diagnosis of this syndrome is fairly simple, primarily due to its close relationship with the chickenpox, so preventing the complications mentioned is fairly simple as well. Physicians can easily diagnose the syndrome by analyzing past medical history, current symptoms, and if needed, a fluid sample from one of the blisters from the rashes near the ears.

Treatment and Management

When managing Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, it is best if one starts treatment as soon as the syndrome has been diagnosed. There are two primary symptoms that can be noticed during the onset of this syndrome: a red rash in the ear region and facial weakness or paralysis on the side of the face that has the rash. When dealing with these two symptoms, they will generally develop at the same time, with the rash developing first in some instances or not be developing at all. An individual with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome may also experience a ringing feeling in his/her ears, loss of hearing, or even difficulty in closing one of their eyes.

By diagnosing this problem early, one can avoid the long-term complications associated with this condition and effectively reduce the pain experienced.

Four different drug types are commonly prescribed by physicians to help combat the symptoms that arise with the syndrome:

  • antiviral drugs such as acyclovir to help combat the chickenpox virus
  • a regimen consisting of high-dose prednisone to help augment the effects of the aforementioned antiviral drugs
  • anti-anxiety medications such as diazepam to aid in reducing the vertigo experienced by the patients
  • pain relieving medications

Narcotic drugs containing oxycodone (such as Percocet) or hydrocodone (such as Vicodin) are often prescribed by doctors to treat this condition due to the elevated and high level of pain that the patients may be experiencing.

What You Can Do to Manage Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

Although one may not be able to do anything at home specifically to rid the condition themselves, they can certainly employ some measures to reduce the level of pain and discomfort they may be experiencing.

Keeping the rash clean is one of the most important things that an affected patient can do in order to keep the area sanitary. Applying cool and wet compresses to the area can also help ease the pain. Individuals can also take over the counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to keep the pain at a controlled level if they are not already taking narcotics of some kind. If the eye is affected or there is a facial weakness, the eye can be taped shut after ointment is applied. Moisturizing eye drops can also be utilized if the eye becomes dry.

Continue Reading