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Herpes zoster oticus with meningitis masquerading as malignant otitis externa
  1. Harriet A Cunniffe1,2 and
  2. Nicholas G Cunniffe3
  1. 1 ENT, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Norwich, UK
  2. 2 ENT, James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Great Yarmouth, UK
  3. 3 Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Harriet A Cunniffe, harriet.cunniffe{at}


This is a case of an 85-year-old woman whom was admitted with otalgia and an abducens nerve palsy alongside a Pseudomonas otitis externa; she was presumed to have malignant otitis externa. However, despite optimum treatment and resolution of her otitis externa, she went on to develop an ipsilateral facial nerve palsy and sensorineural hearing loss. After further investigation, it was discovered that varicella-zoster meningitis was causing her polyneuropathy. She eventually responded to antivirals and steroids and, at follow-up, her sixth and seventh cranial nerve palsies had completely resolved, though a hearing deficit remained. This case highlights the importance of keeping a diagnosis under review, with the help of the multidisciplinary team, when the clinical course is not progressing as expected.

  • infection (neurology)
  • neuro-otology
  • meningitis
  • otitis

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  • Contributors HAC and NGC contributed equally to this paper. Both were involved in the care of the patient and planning, conduct and reporting of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Obtained.

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