Ramsay Hunt syndrome (also termed Hunt's Syndrome and herpes zoster oticus) is a herpes zoster virus infection of the geniculate ganglion of the facial nerve. It occurs when a shingles infection affects the facial nerve near one of patients' ears. In addition to the painful shingles rash, Ramsay Hunt syndrome can cause facial paralysis and hearing loss in the affected ear. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox heals, the virus lies dormant in the nerves. Years later, it may reactivate and affect facial nerve causing Ramsay Hunt syndrome. Delay of treatment may result in permanent facial nerve paralysis.
Ramsay Hunt syndrome is said to be the cause of 16% of all causes of facial palsies in children, and 18% of facial palsies in adults. It is the presumed cause of as many as 20% of clinically diagnosed cases of Bell palsy. It affects men and women equally. However, most cases affect older adults, especially those over 60. It is treated using corticosteroids (prednisone) and oral antiviral drugs (acyclovir or valacyclovir), although the benefit of antiviral medications is uncertain. Some people may use a special eye lubricant at night and artificial tears during the day to prevent the eye from drying out.