Herpes: What You Need to Know
Did you know that herpes may also occur on the eyes as ocular herpes (eye herpes)?
This is because herpes is not just limited to the usual places blisters can be found: lips and the genital area.
Although having eye herpes is a fairly rare infection, your chances of acquiring the infection increases by at least tenfold if you already have the herpes virus in your system.
So wash your hands thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes. Self-contamination is possible so proper hygiene is a must.
Ocular herpes can recur too especially when a person with the virus is exposed to extreme environmental conditions. Stress is also a factor that causes outbreaks to keep coming back.
But not to worry. The good news is that there are ways for you to prevent it from happening!
Two herpes viruses can
cause ocular herpes. Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV 1), which causes cold
sores, and the Varizella Zoster Virus (VZV), which causes chicken pox or shingles. In the eyes, HSV 1 causes herpes simplex keratitis while VZV causes
herpes zoster ophthalmicus. However, both are still considered as eye herpes.
Eye Herpes causes
corneal inflammation and scarring. Unlike the other
more common infections of the eye, herpes have higher chances of causing corneal
Eye Herpes can cause
blindness. Statistics have shown that in the United
States, the infection is the most common cause of corneal blindness, and if not
treated on a timely manner, may even cause eye damage.
The infection is acquired through
direct contact. Because eye herpes is
essentially caused by either HSV or VZV, direct contact with an active sore can
cause the infection.
possible. Self-contamination is possible especially
if you have an active infection. This can be done through rubbing of the eyes.
Treatment is a combination of oral and topical antivirals. Oral
and topical antivirals are used together to treat the infection, sometimes given in
conjunction with steroids. For more information on the correct treatment, be
sure to consult with your physician.
Because a herpes virus
causes it, there is no cure. Although there are
several treatments available for episodes of the infection, there is currently
no cure for the virus. However, there is a long-term antiviral pill
treatment available that could make the recurrence of the infection lessen.
There is more than one
form that you can get. The form of
eye herpes that you can get is dependent on which part of the eye is
infected during an outbreak.
Symptoms of Ocular Herpes
- Pain. Ocular pain due to herpes may be
burning, dull, gritty, sharp, or shooting. It may also be perceived as a
feeling of having something in your eye. Pain is most often associated with other
symptoms like headache or migraine. Pain may also occur only
on one eye or both.
- Redness, rash, and sores. Ocular redness
may be due to a number of diseases as it is one of the cardinal signs of having
an eye infection. It is most commonly caused by the dilation (enlargement) of the eye’s blood
vessels, and indicates either inflammation or excessive straining of the eyes. Sores
during an outbreak usually occur around the eyelids and the
- Swelling and cloudiness of the cornea. Eye herpes, especially those that can lead to corneal scarring (mentioned here
later), can cause swelling and cloudiness of the cornea which could impede with
vision, and in worst case scenarios even cause blindness.
- Tearing. The eyes water as a form of
defense against particles that enter it. In the case of the infection, watering
or tearing occur more frequently due to irritation of the lacrimal glands (tear glands).
- Light Sensitivity. The eyes become
sensitive to light in the onset of the infection, especially with bright lights and direct sunlight. These could cause more tearing and pain to the affected portions of the eyes.
- Discharge. Eye discharge during the infection is usually watery but slightly thicker than tears.
Forms (Types) of Ocular Herpes
As previously mentioned, an eye herpes infection can occur in four types, depending on which area of the eye the virus infects. Here are the four types:
- Herpes keratitis. Herpes keratitis is
probably the most common form of the infection. In this form,
the infection is generally confined to the cornea’s uppermost layer. It is able
to heal without any scarring.
- Stromal Keratitis. Stromal keratitis is
a form wherein the infection of the eyes goes into the
cornea’s deeper layers. Stromal keratitis can cause scarring after it’s healed,
and can even cause loss of vision and in severe cases even blindness. The occurrence is rare, and is named by the NEI (National Eye Institute) as
the foremost cause of corneal scarring that could eventually lead to blindness.
- Iridocyclitis. The iridocyclitis is probably the most serious form of the infection wherein the iris, together with its
surrounding tissues, are inflamed, which could then cause blurred vision, red
eyes, pain, and sensitivity to light. Iridocyclitis mainly affects the majority
of the eye’s frontal portions.
- Herpes retinitis. Herpes retinitis is
the manifestation when the infection occurs in the area of the
Treatment for ocular herpes is completely dependent on what part of
the eye suffers the infection. For this reason,
always consult with a health professional before taking any medication lest you
aggravate your infection. Here are some of the common ways to
treat ocular herpes:
- Antiviral eye drops, oral antiviral pills, or ointments. These are more commonly used when the herpes infection is corneal
and only superficial. Remember not to use contact lenses while on medication as
they may only worsen your infection.
- Debridement. This is done by an ophthalmologist
(eye doctor), and is done by scraping off the infected epithelial cells by
using a cotton swab or a specialized corneal instrument. The use of a patch or
soft contact lens is sometimes used to help with the healing of the debrided
- Steroid Drops. Steroid drops are used to
help minimize eye inflammation and prevent scarring of the cornea, especially
if the infection is located in the deeper layers of the cornea. However, the
used of steroid drops can decrease the efficiency of the eye’s own immune
response. So before using, be sure to ask your physician.
- Surgery. Surgery is only indicated in
worst cases of ocular herpes, like when the infection caused scarring of the
cornea and other treatments have failed to clear it.
What To Do Next?
If you feel like you've acquired a case of ocular herpes but are still
unsure of whether it really is herpes or not:
- The best way to be sure is to
approach your physician and tell him or her, your concerns. They will be able
to either confirm or deny your suspicions, and give you the correct medications
for the condition that you already have.
- On the other hand, if you have already confirmed that you have a
case of ocular herpes and have spoken to your physician, then the best
thing to do is to conform to the treatment plan that was presented to you as to
prevent aggravating your infection.
Ocular herpes is a recurrent infection, and it has a
general likelihood to recur when you are facing extreme environments. This is
because the virus that causes the infection is able to remain dormant (sleeping) in the
As with any infection that occurs, the answer to decreasing the
number of chances that the infection will recur is to manage the infection
properly. A good way to start is by always keeping your hands clean and to avoid touching your eye area as much as possible.
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