What Is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, the Rare Virus Afflicting Justin Bieber's Face?

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber posted video on his Instagram account, which showed that half of his face was paralyzed.Justin Bieber/Instagram

Justin Bieber has canceled tour dates, telling fans he has been diagnosed with the rare Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

Pop star Justin Bieber stunned fans with his social media announcement that half his face is paralyzed and he would be cancelling concert dates in his current tour because, "I got to get my rest on so that I can get my face back to where it's supposed to be," he said.

The 28-year-old performer disclosed he had been diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by paralysis of the facial nerve and a rash affecting the ear or mouth.

"This is pretty serious as you can see. I wish this wasn't the case but obviously, my body is telling me I got to slow down," Bieber said in an Instagram video. The footage clearly showed the former teen idol was unable to move the left side of his face and his eye did not blink. 

"I hope you guys understand and I'll be using this time to rest and relax and get back to 100% so that I can do what I was born to do," he said.

So what is Ramsay Hunt Syndrome? Here is what causes the unusual affliction and what is done to treat it.

The same virus that causes chickenpox in children and shingles in adults is responsible for the disorder, named after James Ramsay Hunt, a doctor who first described the disorder in 1907. The varicella zoster virus attacks facial nerves, most often affecting only one side.

A red, blistering and painful rash may also be present on the outer ear and inside the ear canal, resulting in hearing loss or dramatically increased sound volumes that cause intense pain, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

In some cases, vertigo, vomiting and nausea are experienced. The condition most often attacks adults, with five out of every 100,000 developing the syndrome, according to research estimates. 

Symptoms are most often temporary, NORD said. In few instances, hearing loss is permanent.

Treatment usually involves antiviral medications such as acyclovir, prescribed with a steroid such as prednisone. 

Extra care is needed for the affected eye, to prevent scratches to the cornea, and dangerous dryness caused by the lid being unable to close. An eye patch is recommended to prevent damage, and drops and lubricants are also prescribed to keep the eye moisturized.

If the disorder is treated within three days of showing symptoms, a full recovery is expected within weeks, according to the Mt. Sinai Health System of New York. If treatment is delayed, or there is severe damage to the facial nerve, a complete recovery may not be possible.

Bieber said he is resting and doing facial exercises. “It will go back to normal — it’s just time, and we don’t know how much time that’s going to be,” he said.

Regarding his canceled shows, "I'm just physically, obviously not capable of doing them," Bieber said. "I hope you guys understand." 

Related Stories