Herpes Eye Diseases: Types and Treatments
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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