What Is Moebius Syndrome?

Moebius syndrome is a rare neurological condition that primarily affects the muscles that control eye movement and facial expression. Palsy of the muscles in the face is a common component of Moebius syndrome, and children who have this disorder typically lack the ability to smile, frown or raise their eyebrows.

Moebius syndrome also affects muscles that control side-to-side movement of the eyes, which forces children who have this condition to move their entire head when tracking movement or reading. Sometimes the weakness or paralysis in the child’s facial muscles can also cause problems feeding as a baby and speaking as the child ages.

Because children who have Moebius syndrome often have difficulty with eye contact and speech, some doctors and scientists have suggested a link to autism spectrum disorder. However, because of the physical differences caused by this disorder, autism can be difficult to diagnose in children with Moebius syndrome. While Moebius syndrome may be associated with an increase in intellectual disability, most affected children have normal levels of intelligence for their age.

What Causes Moebius Syndrome?

Research into the causes of Moebius syndrome is ongoing, so doctors aren’t yet certain what causes it. However, it appears to be genetic in origin.

In some cases, this condition may be passed down through a family. The specific causes, or combination of factors, that lead to Moebius syndrome have not been firmly established. Genetic mutation, family history and environmental factors may all play a part in the development of Moebius syndrome.

An important hypothesis as to the cause of Moebius syndrome is that it arises from a lack of blood flow to the child in his or her fetal stage. This interruption in blood flow could occur for a variety of reasons, both genetic and environmental.

What Are the Symptoms of Moebius Syndrome?

Moebius syndrome occurs in varying degrees of severity in each child. There are two major symptoms that a doctor will look for when making a diagnosis:

  1. Facial paralysis or weakness that affects one or both sides the child’s face.
  2. Paralysis of sideways movements of the eyes while maintaining the ability to move them up and down.

Infants born with Moebius syndrome may appear to have a mask-like face. That is, they are unable to smile, frown or manipulate their eyebrows.

Babies with Moebius syndrome can also have difficulty sucking or swallowing, leading to problems with feeding. In certain cases, corneal ulceration may occur due to their eyelids remaining open during sleep.

Children born with Moebius syndrome may also be born with a high palate, causing problems with their teeth and dental structures. This can lead to difficulty in closing the mouth and cause chronically dry lips and gums.

What Are the Treatments for Moebius Syndrome?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Moebius syndrome. Doctors treating Moebius syndrome in children typically create a treatment plan designed to manage the symptoms and minimize developmental challenges.

In infants, the ability to nurse properly can be difficult or impossible due to the inability to form their mouths into a sucking expression. In these cases, traditional breastfeeding is not possible. Special bottles, feeding tubes, nipple shields and spoon feeding can all be used to feed an infant with Moebius syndrome.

Dry eye is common among children with Moebius syndrome due to difficulty blinking. Regular use of eye drops can help manage this complication.

Plastic surgery can be used to improve facial drooping and give a child with Moebius syndrome the ability to smile, though it does not cure the disorder.

Children born with Moebius syndrome that also have problems with their jaw and teeth benefit from using orthodontic devices.