Healthy Living

What is Eye Herpes?

What is Eye Herpes?

Key Takeaways

  • HSV-1 remains dormant for many years in nerve roots. 
  • Eye herpes is treated with antiviral eye drops or ointments, as well as oral antiviral medications. 

What is eye herpes?

Eye herpes, or ocular herpes, is a recurrent viral infection that affects the eyes. It is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1. It causes an inflammation of the eye, as well as scarring in the cornea.

Eye herpes can be transmitted from one person to another when there is a close contact with the affected person. Once infected with HSV–1 the virus, enters the body through the mouth or nose, and travels into the nerve roots where it stays inactive for many years. The real cause of the outbreak is not known, but it is believed that conditions like fever, sunburn, or anything else that affects the immune system can trigger the eye herpes infection to reoccur.

Eye herpes forms

Different forms of eye herpes can occur ranging from a simple eye infection to a condition that could even cause a loss of vision.

Herpes keratitis is the most common type of the eye herpes. This type of herpes usually heals without scarring, as it only affects the epithelium (the top layer) of the cornea.

Stromal keratitis is a more serious viral infection characterized by an affection of the deeper layers of the cornea. It is a rare condition that is believed to result from a late immune response to the original infection. Stromal keratitis can lead to scarring of the eye, problems with vision, as well as loss of vision and blindness.

Iridocyclitis is the most serious form of eye herpes characterized by redness and painful eyes, severe sensitivity to light, and eye inflammation. The iris and the surrounding tissues are affected.

Herpes retinitis is a form of eye herpes affecting the retina.  

Signs and symptoms of eye herpes

The signs and symptoms of eye herpes vary from one person to another.

Characteristic signs and symptoms of eye herpes include:

  • Redness of the eyes
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Swelling around the eyes
  • Irritation
  • A sensation of a foreign body
  • Watery eye discharge
  • Tearing
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Recurrent eye infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of vision.

How is eye herpes treated?

Treatment of the eye herpes depends from the severity of the infection and its location. In superficial corneal herpes infections, antiviral eye drops and oral antiviral medications are enough. Sometimes a debridement of the affected eye is necessary, during which an eye doctor will scrap away the infected corneal epithelial cells with the help of a corneal spatula.

Steroid drops are also recommended in order to reduce the inflammation, as well as to prevent corneal scarring. Antibiotic eye drops are sometimes prescribed to prevent a secondary bacterial infection of the affected eye.

In severe cases of herpes infection, surgery is needed to remove the scarred tissue in the cornea. When the scarring after eye herpes is permanent, corneal transplantation is the only solution.

Eye herpes does not have a cure, but treating it will only help prevent further damage to the eye and it can also help control the outbreak.