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 is caused by reactivation of herpes zoster virus that has previously caused chickenpox in the patient. It occurs when a shingles infection affects the facial nerve near one of the ears. In addition to the rash, Ramsay Hunt syndrome can cause facial paralysis and hearing loss in the affected ear. Ramsay Hunt syndrome 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 the facial nerve causing Ramsay Hunt syndrome.
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. People with a previous chickenpox can potentially develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome. It is commonly treated using corticosteroids (prednisone) and oral antiviral drugs (acyclovir or valacyclovir), although the benefit of antiviral medications is uncertain. Immunization against Varicella zoster may help in preventing relapse of the disease.