Imagine waking up, looking in the mirror and realizing half of your face doesn’t work. That’s what happened to 7 Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Rusack about one month ago.
Rusack had just been dealing with the shingles, which is a viral infection that causes a painful rash.
He noticed his face was drooping and his speech was slurred.
“It looks just like a stroke. It actually looks just like a horrible stroke if you just look into the mirror,” said Richard Ferguson, the head of Neurology at Erie County Medical Center.
Doctors diagnosed Rusack with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which is similar to Bell’s palsy.
The big difference between the two is that doctors knew his facial paralysis was caused by shingles.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Ramsay Hunt syndrome occurs when a shingles outbreak affects the facial nerve near one of your ears.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bell's palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles is swollen, inflamed, or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. It affects approximately 40,000 Americans each year.
It’s not really clear why someone gets Bell’s palsy.
“Nobody knows what exactly causes it. It's thought that's caused to be a viral infection that gets into the nerve,” said Ferguson.
Rusack says it’s not just the inability to move his muscles that is the issue. He’s lost some ability to taste, loud noises in his right ear sound much louder and sometimes he feels dizzy.
Since doctors say they aren’t quite sure what causes the paralysis, there’s not much someone can do to prevent it. If someone does get diagnosed, they will most likely be prescribed with an anti-inflammatory and told to protect the eye, since it’s difficult to completely blink.
“If you're not careful you can get corneal abrasions to the eye. So you have to be sure to use artificial tears,” says Ferguson.
According to Dr. Ferguson, only the bottom half of the face will sag during a stroke, the whole face tends to droop with Bell’s palsy, and usually the face will return to normal in four to six weeks.
To learn more about Bell's palsy, click here.
To learn more about Ramsay Hunt syndrome, click here.