What Is Moebius Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 07, 2022

Moebius syndrome is a birth defect in the brain that affects your ability to control certain parts of your face and eyes. Read on to learn more about what moebius syndrome is, signs you have it, and potential treatments.

What Is Moebius Syndrome?

Moebius syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that is present at birth. It’s estimated that this condition affects 2–20 infants for every million births. 

Moebius syndrome affects the sixth and seventh cranial nerves, which control your eyes and facial expressions, respectively. It can also affect other cranial nerves. If you have Moebius syndrome, you’ll have difficulty controlling your expressions, including frowning, raising your eyebrows, smiling, or closing your eyes. Your face may droop slightly or remain so still that it looks similar to a mask.

Moebius syndrome could also affect limb or chest muscle development. This is not a progressive condition, so it won’t get worse as time goes on, but it can cause issues with:

Moebius Syndrome Symptoms

Depending on how severe your case is, your Moebius symptom symptoms will vary. A standard case of Moebius syndrome will include:

  • Paralysis or weakness in one or both sides of your face
  • Inability to move your eyes sideways

Babies may display extreme drooling and crossed eyes. As they try to look at moving objects, they’ll have to turn their heads because they can’t follow the objects with their eyes alone. When crying or laughing, the “mask” appearance will be especially apparent. Infants with moebius syndrome may have difficulty eating, swallowing, and sucking. It’s also possible for their corneas to develop ulcers because their eyes don’t close when they go to sleep.

On top of this, quite a few broader physical symptoms may accompany Moebius syndrome. These less common signs include:

  • A short tongue
  • Small jaw
  • Cleft palate and accompanying ear infections
  • Underdevelopment of part of the ear or a missing portion of the ear
  • Dental abnormalities and accompanying cavities and speech delays
  • Clubbed feet
  • Underdeveloped lower legs
  • Webbed fingers
  • Underdeveloped or missing fingers
  • Scoliosis

These physical abnormalities can delay a baby’s ability to reach milestones like crawling and walking, though many children eventually catch up.

Moebius Syndrome Causes

Moebius syndrome causes are largely unknown. Many cases appear to happen at random, although some cases lead healthcare professionals to believe that influencing factors may be genetic, environmental, or both. If you have a family history of Moebius syndrome and want to start a family or are expecting a baby, you should consult your healthcare provider for advice.

One theory suggests that if there isn’t enough blood flow to the developing baby during pregnancy, that prevents the hindbrain from fully developing. Interrupted blood flow could happen for genetic, mechanical, or environmental reasons.

There’s currently no research suggesting that being male, female, of a certain ethnicity, etc. will increase your chances of getting Moebius syndrome.

Diagnosing Moebius Syndrome

An initial Moebius syndrome diagnosis is based on an examination of physical symptoms, as there are no diagnostic tests that can confirm you have Moebius syndrome. Your healthcare provider will likely perform certain tests prior to the diagnosis anyway, though, in order to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

There are two main signs that you have Moebius syndrome and not something similar: If you’ve experienced weakness or paralysis in your face since birth that hasn’t gotten better or worse and you’re unable to move your eyes laterally but can move them vertically, it’s likely that you have Moebius syndrome.

Treating Moebius Syndrome

Instead of attempting to cure Moebius syndrome treatment, you’ll simply be working to manage the symptoms. To do so, you might work with a variety of specialists like:

  • Audiologists for hearing issues
  • Dentists for tooth or mouth issues
  • Occupational therapists for issues relating to everyday tasks
  • Ophthalmologist for eye issues
  • Otolaryngologists for nose, throat, and ear issues
  • Physical therapists for general movement issues
  • Speech therapists for speaking issues
  • General, plastic, or orthopedic surgeons

Your healthcare provider(s) might suggest specific treatments, including:

  • Protecting and correcting vision with contact lenses
  • Lubricating the eyes with eye drops
  • Correcting clubfoot with a series of casts
  • Using braces, splints, or prosthetic body parts to supplement or replace limbs

A number of surgeries are also optional, including:

  • Crossed eye correction
  • Dental surgery to fix tooth spacing and other dental issues
  • Surgery to help close eyelids
  • Transference of muscle or nerve tissue to different parts of your body to help with movement issues
  • A tracheotomy to make breathing easier
  • Separation of webbed fingers

Note that due to the feeding difficulties that come along with Moebius syndrome, food buildup and decay often occur behind the teeth. You should be diligent about brushing and flossing to prevent damaged teeth and gums.

Disorders Related to Moebius Syndrome

A handful of disorders have symptoms similar to those of Moebius syndrome. It’s useful to understand these related conditions as you seek a diagnosis and better grasp what makes your condition unique:

  • Poland syndrome. Also called Poland-Mobius syndrome, this condition causes webbed fingers, physical abnormalities in the hands and fingers, and underdeveloped chests. It usually affects only one side of the body.
  • Hereditary congenital facial palsy (HCFP). This condition causes paralysis of the facial nerves, hearing loss, and crossed eyes. However, people with HCFP can move their eyes horizontally.
  • Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome. This syndrome sets in during childhood or adolescence and causes weakness in half or all of the face, chronic face swelling, and abnormalities of the tongue.

Other related disorders include hemifacial microsomia, birth trauma, Ramsay-Hunt syndrome, cerebral palsy, Guillain-Barre syndrome, congenital muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, autoimmune disorders, multiple sclerosis, brain trauma, and brainstem tumors. Consult with your healthcare provider to ensure you fully understand your own diagnosis and how it differs from a related disorder.

Working With a Healthcare Provider for Moebius Syndrome

If you have Moebius syndrome, you should work closely with healthcare providers your whole life. With comprehensive medical attention, you should be able to enjoy a normal life expectancy, live productively, and avoid life-threatening complications.

Show Sources

Cleveland Clinic: “Moebius Syndrome.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Moebius Syndrome.”
NORD: “Moebius Syndrome.”

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