Ramsay Hunt syndrome

Ramsay Hunt syndrome (herpes zoster oticus) occurs when a shingles infection affects the facial nerve near one of your ears. In addition to the painful shingles 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 your nerves. Years later, it may reactivate. If the virus reactivates and affects your facial nerve, the result is Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

Prompt treatment of Ramsay Hunt syndrome can reduce your risk of complications, which can include permanent facial muscle weakness and deafness.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

The two main signs of Ramsay Hunt syndrome are:

  • A painful red rash with fluid-filled blisters on, in and around one ear
  • Facial weakness or paralysis on the same side as the affected ear

Usually, the rash and the facial paralysis develop at the same time. But in some cases, the rash will occur before the facial paralysis or the paralysis before the rash. Sometimes the rash never materializes.

If you have Ramsay Hunt syndrome, you might also experience:

  • Ear pain
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Difficulty closing one eye
  • A sensation of spinning or moving (vertigo)
  • A change in taste perception or loss of taste

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if you experience facial paralysis or a shingles rash on your face. Treatment beginning within seven days of the start of signs and symptoms may help prevent long-term complications.

© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use