Justin Bieber was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome - what is it?

The rare disease afflicting Justin Bieber is caused by the chickenpox virus and can cause paralysis.

 Singer Justin Bieber poses at the premiere for the documentary television series "Justin Bieber: Seasons" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 27, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI)
Singer Justin Bieber poses at the premiere for the documentary television series "Justin Bieber: Seasons" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 27, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MARIO ANZUONI)

Ramsay Hunt syndrome, specifically Ramsay Hunt syndrome II, is a rare malady that causes rashes on the ear and tongue and is a common cause of facial paralysis. According to the Journal of Otolaryngology and Rhinology, it is probably caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. 

The namesake of the disease is Dr. James Ramsay Hunt, who was a professor of medicine at Cornell and later Columbia School of Medicine. Dr. Hunt described the syndrome’s collection of symptoms in 1907.

Justin Bieber is suffering from the syndrome

Over a century later, Ramsay Hunt syndrome has become a matter of world attention after Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber has been forced to cancel a series of shows from his North American “Justice” tour due to suffering from the syndrome.

In a video posted on Instagram, Bieber demonstrated how an entire half of his face is paralyzed. Fans need not worry, though. The pop star says that he is doing facial exercises and will recover. As to when he will be able to perform again, only time will tell. 

“It will get back to normal. It’s just time, and we don’t know how much time that’s going to be.”

Justin Bieber

What are the symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome?

Many sufferers of the syndrome begin by experiencing flu-like symptoms with a dull, aching sensation in the ear, the Journal of Otolaryngology and Rhinology explains.

This often develops into a sharper pain in the ear that precedes rashes on the ear and tongue. Blisters then form which rupture and crust open lesions. Most patients stop experiencing the pain once the skin lesions heal.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment options include antiviral agents, sympathetic nerve blocks, steroids, and opioids. In rare cases when a patient does not recover, usually occurring in the elderly and immunocompromised, the syndrome can lead to more serious symptoms ranging from a rash similar to chickenpox to a life-threatening infection that harms the nervous system. 

As Bieber has exhibited, another symptom of Ramsay Hunt syndrome is facial paralysis caused by the paralysis of the seventh cranial nerve due to its inflammation. The paralysis is very similar to that experienced by sufferers of Bell’s palsy. However, as the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry expresses, the paralysis experienced in Ramsay Hunt syndrome is often worse than what those with Bell’s palsy experience. Furthermore, someone with Ramsay Hunt syndrome is less likely to recover. 

The fate of Bieber’s tour

Although Bieber said he is recovering, he had to postpone his June 13 show at the world-famous Madison Square Garden and will likely need to miss more dates. Fans with “Bieber Fever” will have to wait for the singer to make a full recovery before they can see him on stage once again.

A statement released on June 13 by Bieber’s tour promoter, AEG Presents, gave fans a reassuring message. “Justin is receiving the best medical care possible and is determined to resume the tour as soon as he and the doctors feel he is able to continue.”

With proper treatment and facial exercises, Bieber should be able to attend his scheduled performance at Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon on October 13.