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. Ramsay Hunt syndrome 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. According to one estimate, 5 out of every 100,000 people develop Ramsay Hunt syndrome each year in the United States.
Symptoms of the syndrome include rash of the ear or mouth, onset of facial paresis/palsy, ipsilateral lower motor neuron facial paresis/palsy, vertigo and hearing loss, tinnitus, otalgia, headaches, dysarthria, ataxia, fever and cervical adenopathy. Delay of treatment may result in permanent facial nerve paralysis. It is treated using corticosteroids (prednisone) and oral antiviral drugs (acyclovir or valacyclovir), although the benefit of the antivirals is uncertain. Immunization against Varicella zoster may help in preventing relapse of the disease. Some people may use a special eye lubricant at night and artificial tears during the day to prevent the eye from drying out.