Woman holding her face in pain from an ear ache

Shingles of the ear?

Often a celebrity will unintentionally bring a medical condition to the public eye. Singer Cher introduced many fans to Epstein-Barr Syndrome. Serena Williams has Sjogren’s Syndrome. Selena Gomez had people talking about Lupus and auto-immune disease, and Magic Johnson made HIV more real to millions of basketball fans. In recent news, singer Justin Bieber has caused a rise in internet searches for a disorder called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. What is this condition? Can anyone get it? Is it treatable?

If you had Chicken Pox, the varicella zoster virus is living inside you. This is a variant of the herpes virus. It typically does not cause any symptoms after the first outbreak, however, many adults will experience shingles years later. Shingles causes pain and blistering, as it attacks nerves. Different sites on the body can be affected. A particularly disruptive version is called herpes zoster oticus, shingles of the ear. This is also known as Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

Ramsay Hunt can cause severe pain and blistering in the region of the ear. In some cases, the facial nerve is affected. This cranial nerve allows movement for most of your face. People like Bieber end up with a weak side of the face, much like Bell’s Palsy. Speech, eating or drinking, closing the eye and facial expressions can be severely affected. Even the inner ear can feel the effects. Hearing loss, tinnitus and/or dizziness and lack of balance can result. Symptoms may not be permanent, however, the temporary effects are less than pleasant and can last for months.

Medical interventions, such as steroids, antivirals, and pain medications cannot be given until the condition if diagnosed. As in most ear-related conditions, do not wait if you suspect a problem. Call your primary physician or be examined by an ear specialist as soon as you are able. As always, we wish to keep you on a clear path to good hearing and ear health.