Herpes Eye Diseases: Types and Treatments

by Sep 13, 2022Eye Disease

Herpes is a group of viruses that infect humans and cause various symptoms. All herpes viruses affect nerves and skin tissue – including on the eyes.


Types of Herpes Viruses

Within the family of herpes viruses, there are three main viruses. Herpes simplex type 1, herpes simplex type 2, and varicella zoster (chicken pox or shingles).

Herpes simplex type 1 is associated with sores around the mouth, lips, and genital regions. It is uncommon for herpes simplex type 1 to affect the eyes.

Herpes simplex type 2 is associated with similar sores of the mouth or face (fever blisters or cold sores) and is the predominant virus which affects the eyes.

Varicella zoster is the virus responsible for chicken pox and the reactivation of this virus causes shingles. In individuals with shingles, there are many eye related effects of this virus.


Herpes Simplex Keratitis

When herpes simplex type 2 affects the eyes, the condition is called herpes simplex keratitis. This condition affects the front of the eye – the cornea.

It is possible for herpes simplex keratitis to be the first outbreak of any form, but it is more common for an individual to have had other symptoms of herpes simplex infection previously.

This virus can live dormant in the body for years and can become reactivated due to triggers such as stress, injury, or another infection.


Signs and Symptoms of Herpes Simplex Keratitis

If an eye is infected by herpes simplex, symptoms including redness, eye pain, and blurry vision are possible.

Signs found on the eye during an eye examination can include a defect in the cornea called a dendritic ulcer, reduced corneal sensitivity to touch, and swelling of the cornea.


Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus

When the varicella zoster virus infects the eyes and surrounding areas it is called herpes zoster ophthalmicus.

This condition only occurs with the reactivation of the virus in a shingles outbreak and is not associated with a chicken pox infection.

Anyone who has had chicken pox is susceptible to a shingles reactivation and therefore herpes zoster ophthalmicus.

Signs and Symptoms of Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus

Common symptoms of herpes zoster ophthalmicus include tenderness of the skin around the eyes, blister like lesions on one half of the face, and eye pain.

Additional signs include corneal epithelial defects, redness of the conjunctiva, and production of pus or mucus from the lesions.


Treating Herpes Eye Infections

Both herpes simplex keratitis and herpes zoster ophthalmicus are able to be treated with oral medication or topical eye drops.

These antiviral medications are designed to prevent the virus from replicating and halt the infection.

However, these antiviral medications are not designed to rid the body of the virus if it is dormant.

There are vaccines available for varicella zoster virus, both the chicken pox and shingles variety. These vaccines are extremely effective and can prevent any infection to begin with.

While there is no vaccine available for herpes simplex, if there are several outbreaks within a short period of time, an antiviral medication can be taken daily as a preventative measure.

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Our eye doctors at Nittany Eye Associates excel in the prescription of contact lenses, glasses and various eye diseases. Call us at (814) 234-2015 or schedule an appointment online with one of our highly trained optometrists if you would like to learn more about herpes eye dideases.  Be sure to visit Nittany Eye Associates where we always put the care of you and your family first at our convenient locations in State College, Matilda, Spring Mills, Tyrone, and Lock Haven PA areas.


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