Commonly referred to as Ramsay Hunt syndrome type II, herpes zoster oticus is a disease that affects a bundle of nerve cells in the ear. It is typically a complication of herpes zoster, or shingles. Symptoms include pain and a variety of other problems in the ear, as well as problems in the mouth and eyes.
Herpes zoster oticus is believed to be caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. It happens in a number of shingles patients, and occurs when this virus infects the seventh or eighth cranial, or facial, nerves. These specific nerves are responsible for a number of things, including facial movements, saliva and tear production, transmitting sound to the brain, and balance.
The most commonly reported symptom is typically intense ear pain. Hearing loss or ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus, sometimes occurs, and because this virus affects the part of the ear that regulates equilibrium, a person with this condition may have balance problems or become dizzy easily. A rash and blisters, similar to those of chickenpox and shingles, may also be present on both the inner and the outer ear, as well as the roof of the mouth and the tongue.
A change in one's sense of taste may occur in patients with this disease. Saliva and tear production may also slow down or even cease, resulting in taste changes, as well as dry eyes. Some patients with herpes zoster oticus also report partial facial paralysis or weakness.
Herpes zoster oticus can be mistaken for a condition known as Bell's palsy because these conditions have very similar symptoms. In Bell's palsy cases, however, there is no rash. Diagnosing the condition is usually done after a complete examination of a patient and his symptoms. Samples of fluids from blister sites may also be sent to a lab to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for this disease can vary, depending on the severity of the symptoms and how long the disease has been present. Some patients may not require any treatment at all, while others may be prescribed certain antiviral medications like acyclovir or famciclovir. Corticosteroids and pain medication may also be prescribed.
Although nearly everyone can get this disease, there are a few types of individuals that are more at risk than others. For example, research has shown that elderly people are more at risk than younger people. People with weakened immune systems are also considered to be more likely to suffer from herpes zoster oticus.