OCCULAR HERPEScauses, symptoms and treatments

Text size:
Last updated 10/8/2019
Occular Herpes

What is Ocular Herpes?

Herpes viruses live around the nerve fibers of most adults and usually don’t cause problems. But when a person’s immune system is weakened, these viruses can start to multiply and cause symptoms.

 

When an ocular herpes outbreak occurs, a painful blistering rash can appear on the skin around your eye, forehead and tip of your nose or also on the surface of your eye (the cornea).

 

Ocular herpes is worrisome because it can cause scarring, vision loss and other long-term problems.

There are two types of Occular Herpes

 

Herpes Simplex Type I

Herpes simplex Type I is the same virus that causes cold sores on the lips and mouth. In the eye it usually infects the cornea. This is known as herpes simplex keratitis. It typically affects the outermost corneal layer, called the epithelium, and heals without scarring.

 

In about 25 percent of cases the virus infects the deeper corneal layer known as the stroma (called stromal keratitis). This is more serious because it can lead to scarring and vision loss. The virus can also infect the iris and surrounding tissues (iridocyclitis) as well as the retina which is the inside lining of the back of the eye (herpes retinitis).

 

Varicella Zoster Virus

The Varicella zoster virus is the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. When it affects the eye, it’s called herpes zoster ophthalmicus. Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in your body and hides in nerve cells near your spinal cord. The virus can reactivate decades later anywhere on your body. In about ten to twenty percent of people with shingles, the flare-up occurs in and around the eye.

 

Symptoms of ocular herpes

Actually, the two types of herpetic eye disease have different symptoms, although both have eye pain in common. The symptoms help your doctor identify which virus is the culprit causing the outbreak.

 

Symptoms of herpes ophthalmicus

  • Pain in and around one eye onl
  • Headache and fever
  • Redness, rash or sores on the eyelids or around the eyes and forehead
  • A rash at the tip of the nose
  • Eye redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Clouding and inflammation of the cornea (known as keratitis)

 

Symptoms of herpes simplex type I 

  • Pain in and around one eye only
  • Eye redness
  • The sensation of dirt or grit in the eye
  • Tearing
  • Pain when looking at bright light
  • Swelling or clouding of the cornea (known as keratitis)

 

Long-term side effect of ocular herpes

Unfortunately, there can be long-term side effects following a herpes outbreak. Although the rash will fade after a few weeks, the pain can continue for weeks or months. This is due to nerve damage caused by the virus and it’s known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

 

Also, if the herpes has infected your cornea, it can result in corneal ulcers creating permanent scars that lead to loss of vision. Lastly, your eye pressure can increase, leading to glaucoma.

 

Diagnosing ocular herpes

Typically, your eye doctor can determine if you have ocular herpes just by looking at the rash on your eyelids, face and scalp. Identifying which virus is the culprit depends on your symptoms. Your eye specialist may want to take a fluid sample from the blisters and send it to the lab to confirm which form of herpes is present.

 

You eye specialist might also check the pressure inside your eye. In addition, your doctor might place fluorescein dye eye drops in your eye and examine it under ultraviolet light in order to check for damage to the surface of your cornea.

 

Who's at risk for ocular herpes?

You’re at increased risk of getting ocular herpes if:

  • You had chickenpox as a child (you can get herpes zoster ophthalmicus)
  • You’re age 50 or older
  • Your immune system is weakened by cancer, HIV, AIDS or any disease
  • You’re on medications that weaken your immune system (say, chemotherapy or radiation for cancer or steroids following an organ transplant)
  • You are under a lot of stress

Ocular herpes causes, is it contagious?

While the exact cause of a herpes virus outbreak is unknown, there seem to be stress-related factors associated with virus reactivation. These triggers include fever, sunburn, major surgical or dental procedures and trauma. Herpetic eye disease is not sexually transmitted, and the virus is different from the one that causes genital herpes.

 

The herpes simplex virus enters the body through the nose or mouth and travels to the nerves, where it settles and can remain dormant for years. It’s possible that it may never wake up. However, once an initial outbreak occurs, an untreated eye herpes has about a forty to fifty percent chance of returning.

 

The herpes zoster virus is transmitted through contact with someone who’s having an outbreak or through self-contact by touching a cold sore and spreading the virus to another part of your body. The virus is in its contagious stage when there are visible blisters present.

 

How to stop spreading ocular herpes

If you have a herpes zoster outbreak, it’s important to avoid close contact with anyone who’s never had chickenpox because you can transmit the virus to them and cause them to have a case of chickenpox. This is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and children.

  • Stay away from anyone who is pregnant of has a weakened immune system
  • Cover your rash and avoid touching it
  • Avoid scratching your rash
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching the rash

 

Ocular herpes treatment

  • Although eye herpes has no cure, outbreak symptoms can be controlled with anti-viral medications. There are also anti-viral eye drops and topical antiviral gels that may be prescribed. Commonly prescribed antiviral drugs include: acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) to help stop the virus from spreading, help the blisters heal faster and help relieve pain.
  • Unfortunately, herpes infections can be very painful, even after several days of treatment and after the eye starts looking better. Even though it may not seem like it, the medications are working and the pain will go away eventually. Usually, your rash should heal within one to three weeks, although sometimes it can take up to several months. Your doctor will want to monitor you throughout your treatment.
  • It is very important that you take your anti-viral medication exactly as prescribed and for as long as your doctor recommends. Even if you start to look and feel better, if you stop taking the medicine too soon your infection can come back.
  • If the herpes infection involves your cornea, your doctor might also prescribe steroid eye drops. Although they help control swelling and prevent scarring, they can also increase your eye pressure, so your doctor will probably want to monitor you closely.
  • It might be necessary to use an antibiotic eye drop along with a therapeutic contact lens in order to prevent a secondary bacterial infection from forming while the herpes is being treated.
  • In the worst cases of ocular herpes involving severe permanent corneal scarring, corneal transplant surgery may be needed to restore vision.

Preventing Ocular Herpes 

While there’s no prevention for the herpes simplex virus, you can prevent the varicella zoster virus (shingles) by getting a vaccine. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) actually recommends this vaccine for folks 60 and older because it cuts your risk of getting shingles by more than fifty percent.

 

What’s more, the shingles vaccine can reduce your odds of having long-term nerve damage by more than 66 percent

 

Why choose Assil Eye Institute for your eye care

The Assil Eye Institute is nationally recognized for its legacy of compassionate patient-centric care, its commitment to pioneering advances in ophthalmology, and its dedication to supporting the health and well-being not only of its patients, but also of its community.

 

Dr. Assil has assembled a team of top Ophthalmology specialists from around the country to offer our patients the highest quality of Specialist care within the comfort and familiarity of our Los Angeles offices. Our two locations allow patients to choose the clinic that's most convenient to their home or office.

1160 Total 1st Party Reviews
4.9 out of 5 Stars
  • GatherUp
    I am confident in the approach regarding use of PRK. I would like to understand more about the use of the Vivex machine techno...
    Zachary H.
  • GatherUp
    Excellent care received.
    Sandra C.
  • GatherUp
    I first came to Dr. Assil for Lasik in 2000 and have been a patient for 19 years. Dr. May confirmed I have 20-15 vision in bot...
    James S.
  • GatherUp
    Excellent service and personnel !!!!!!!
    James M.
  • GatherUp
    Brilliant intelligent doctors
    Geraldine R.
  • GatherUp
    I have very much appreciated the excellent, knowledgeable and friendly drs and staff of Assil Institute over many years... than...
    Mariana C.
  • GatherUp
    Well I must say that I will always be forever grateful with Dr. Assil for saving my vision the way he did. Not only did he and ...
    Liliana T.
  • GatherUp
    While I am pleased with my initial experience, my ultimate opinion will be based upon the outcome after the full series of trea...
    Robert H.
  • GatherUp
    Very professional and answered all my questions.
    Leslie W.
  • GatherUp
    Would recommend to a friend
    Brian K.
Look Who Trusts Their Eyes to Assil Eye Institute...
  • LeBron James
    Los Angeles Lakers

    LeBron James is one of the NBA's greatest of all time. He absolutely depends on his vision to perform at the very highest level.

     

    LeBron trusts his eyes to Assil Eye Institute.

  • Anthony Davis
    Los Angeles Lakers
  • Chris Paul
    Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Dwyane Wade
    Miami Heat (retired)
  • Marlee Matlin
    Actress
  • Michelle Williams
    Actress
  • LaToya Jackson
    Entertainer
  • Lorenzo Lamas
    Actor
  • Philip Bailey
    Earth Wind and Fire
  • Gary Sinise
    Actor
  • Rip Hamilton
    Former NBA player
  • John Salley
    Commentator, former NBA player
  • Blair Underwood
    Actor
  • Tom Arnold
    Comedian/Actor
  • Troy Evans
    Actor
  • John Noble
    Actor
  • Isaac Eddy
    Actor/Director/Teacher
  • Barbara Rush
    Actress
  • John Emerson
    US Ambassador to Germany
  • Shane Mosley
    Former professional boxer
  • Cuttino Mobley
    Former NBA player
  • Seth Gordon
    Director
  • Maurice Evans
    Former NBA player
  • Wang Luoyong
    Actor
  • Jesse Metcalfe
    Actor
  • Ananda Lewis
    Television Personality
  • Rob Brydon
    Comedian
  • Clifton Collins Jr.
    Actor
  • Malinda Williams
    Actress
  • Adrienne Frantz
    Actress
  • Lacey Chabert
    Actress
  • Brad Pitt
    Actor
  • LeBron James
    Los Angeles Lakers
  • Anthony Davis
    Los Angeles Lakers
  • Chris Paul
    Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Courtney Cox
    Actress
  • Paul George
    Los Angeles Clippers
  • Dwyane Wade
    Miami Heat (retired)
  • Marlee Matlin
    Actress
  • Michelle Williams
    Actress
  • Jalen Brunson
    Dallas Mavericks
  • Mychal Thompson
    Commentator, former NBA player
  • LaToya Jackson
    Entertainer
  • Lorenzo Lamas
    Actor
  • Philip Bailey
    Earth Wind and Fire
  • Gary Sinise
    Actor
  • Rip Hamilton
    Former NBA player
  • John Salley
    Commentator, former NBA player
  • Blair Underwood
    Actor
  • Tom Arnold
    Comedian/Actor
  • Troy Evans
    Actor
  • John Noble
    Actor
  • Isaac Eddy
    Actor/Director/Teacher
  • Barbara Rush
    Actress
  • Rudy Garciduenas
    Blue Man Group
  • John Emerson
    US Ambassador to Germany
  • Shane Mosley
    Former professional boxer
  • Cuttino Mobley
    Former NBA player
  • Seth Gordon
    Director
  • Maurice Evans
    Former NBA player
  • Cheri Blauwet
    Physician and Wheelchair Racer
  • Wang Luoyong
    Actor
  • Jesse Metcalfe
    Actor
  • Jeana Wilson
    Actress
  • Courtnee Draper
    Actress
  • Ananda Lewis
    Television Personality
  • Robyn Johnson
    Producer
  • Rob Brydon
    Comedian
  • Cary Schuman
    Actor
  • Roland Buddy Lewis Jr.
    Comedian
  • Clifton Collins Jr.
    Actor
  • Malinda Williams
    Actress
  • Chad Jeffers
    Musician
  • Adrienne Frantz
    Actress
  • Franco Carlotto
    Body Builder
  • Brad Mates
    Musician
  • David Pichette
    Musician
  • Mike Melacon
    Professional Baseball Player
  • Nautica de la Cruz
    Radio Personality
  • Lynn Conkwright
    Body Builder
  • Nely Galan
    Producer
  • Roxanne Galla
    Actress
  • Lacey Chabert
    Actress