Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

How is Ramsay Hunt syndrome diagnosed?

Diagnosis of the syndrome is most often made by observing the symptoms described above (red painful rash with ear and or mouth blisters and one-sided facial paralysis). Also, a PCR test (polymerase chain reaction) can be performed on the fluid from the blisters to demonstrate the viral genetic material, but this test is not done routinely.

Is Ramsay Hunt syndrome contagious?

The syndrome is not contagious; however, the herpes zoster virus that can be found in the blisters of Ramsay Hunt syndrome can be transmitted to other people and cause chickenpox in those who are unvaccinated against chickenpox and who have never had chickenpox. Individuals with Ramsay Hunt syndrome should avoid contact with newborns, pregnant women, immunodepressed individuals, and people with no history of chickenpox, at least until all the blisters change to scabs.

How does Ramsay Hunt syndrome compare with Bell's palsy?

Bell's palsy also is a result of injury to the facial nerve by a viral infection, but the suspected viral cause of Bell's palsy has not been identified. Ramsay Hunt syndrome is caused by the Varicella virus (Herpes zoster) that also causes chickenpox and shingles (a painful, blister-producing Herpes zoster reinfection that usually occurs on one side of the body). There is no red rash associated with Bell's palsy as there is with Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Additionally, Ramsay Hunt syndrome is commonly more painful than Bell's palsy. However, both can cause eyelid and mouth paralysis on one side of the face.

Dyssynergia cerebellaris myoclona is a rare degenerative disease of the nerves characterized by epilepsy, muscle spasms, and gradually increasing tremors. Like Bell's palsy, this disease complex mimics many symptoms of Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Some investigators term the disease complex Ramsay Hunt syndrome type 2.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/4/2015

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