What is Gorham’s Disease?

Gorham’s disease is a rare condition in which the facial nerve, or the glottus, becomes misshapen. The result can be very unpleasant and it can eventually become paralyzed. Gorham’s disease also causes damage to the nerves in the ear. This means that, although you may be able to hear normally, you will have trouble seeing things around you. People who are afflicted with this disorder usually find it very difficult to form eye contact, and they often appear to look as if they are close to blind.

What causes Gorham’s disease? Although there has yet to be an exact explanation, it appears to be linked to genetic disorders. People who have a family history of this problem may be more susceptible to it than others. In addition, those who suffer from Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis are also at a higher risk. While some of the triggers for this disorder have yet to be identified, doctors believe that certain environmental factors such as pollution, stress, smoking, and others may play a role.

What are the symptoms of Gorham’s disease? The most obvious symptom is the lack of coordination. Because the nerves that run along the sides of the face become damaged, people who experience this disorder find it extremely difficult to move their head or even just turn their head to one side. Some individuals may also find it difficult to breathe properly. Others may not have complete sensation in one or both of their extremities.

The treatments for Gorham’s disease usually involve taking medication and performing physical therapy. This is usually followed by surgery. For those whose only option is medication, doctors may prescribe antidepressants or anti-convulsants. In some cases, steroid injections may be necessary. In extreme cases, permanent surgical removal of the offending nerve might be required.

How is Gorham’s disease diagnosed? In most cases, Gorham’s disease is diagnosed by means of a physical examination. The physician will look for signs of neurological damage including loss of sensation, deformity, atrophy, and asymmetry. Specialized x-rays may also be used to detect damage caused by the disease.

Once the doctor has determined that Gorham’s disease is present, he will want to perform a neurological test called an arthrocentesis. In this test, the physician will insert a pin into the area of concern. If there is nerve damage present, the area around the pin will show areas of redness, swelling, and possibly firmness or heaviness. If the disease is not Gorham’s disease, then a consultation with a plastic surgeon will be in order. The surgeon can determine whether or not the facial nerve has been damaged enough to require plastic surgery.

The ultimate treatment options will be determined after a consultation with a physician and his or her staff. Possible treatment options include steroid injection and possible surgical removal of the infected nerve. The final treatment options will ultimately be dependent upon the age of the patient and the severity of the condition.

The good news about Gorham’s disease is that it is very rare. Only 0.2 percent of the world’s population is affected by Gorham’s. This constitutes a huge number of people, which makes it a potentially deadly infection. Fortunately, treatment is available in many instances. With early detection, prompt care, and a positive outlook, anyone suffering from this condition should be able to survive.

People who are interested in Gorham’s disease but do not want to undergo invasive procedures may want to consider non-invasive options first. A consultation with a plastic surgeon may be able to lead to some promising options. The treatment can begin by washing the face twice daily using warm water and a mild soap. This will not completely remove any bacteria that may be residing in the skin, but will help to reduce swelling and prevent further irritation of the nerve damage. The goal is to make it as pain free as possible.

Non-surgical treatments may also include using hot compresses and ice packs. Doctors may recommend antihistamines for cases that have not responded to these initial steps. Vitamin E may also be helpful. These treatments should all be used in conjunction with a thorough cleaning regimen. A doctor will be able to advise his or her patient on the best course of action to take.

Because there is no known cause or cure for Gorham’s disease, patients and doctors alike are taking steps to find methods of prevention. Those who are concerned about possibly contracting the disease should inform their family physician of this concern. Regular contact with the physician should also be encouraged. Prevention is certainly better than cure, as anyone who has experienced the terrible consequences of improperly cared for skin can attest to.

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