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Herpes… for the eye?

herpesYes, herpes can affect the eye. One herpetic condition that inflicts the eye is herpes zoster–otherwise known as shingles.

The Virus

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus. The primary infection causes chicken pox, which many of us had as children. (You may remember this as a rash with a fever that kept you out of school for a few days). After the chicken pox are over, the virus remains dormant in the body, where it can remain inactive for decades.

When it reactivates, it causes a rash that is often preceded by a few days of pain, tingling or burning. This can happen randomly, or it can be the result of a stressor like illness or immune suppression.

The Rash

The rash begins with red patches followed by small blisters. Sometimes these blisters are described as looking like “dewdrops on rose petals.” Eventually the blisters crust over and fall off in two or three weeks.

If shingles affects the face, there is a 10 to 25 percent chance it can involve the eye (especially if the tip of your nose involved). If not properly treated, it can cause vision loss.

Herpetic eye disease can manifest itself in many ways: pink eye, corneal ulcers, or inflammation in the front of the eye, retina or optic nerve. Sometimes the eye pressure can also become elevated.

If you have herpes zoster in your face, I recommend that you get examined by an ophthalmologist to see if the eye is involved.


The treatment will likely involve antiviral medications like Valtrex (valaciclovir). In most cases,  you can take this medicine by mouth, but sometimes treatment has to be intravenous acyclovir. These medications reduce pain and shorten the time course of the disease.

Avoid giving it to others

Shingles is contagious, so don’t expose young infants, pregnant mothers or people who are immunocompromised  to the open sores or materials that come in contact with the rash.

What about the vaccine?

A vaccine is available to prevent herpes zoster. The vaccine has been shown to be effective in either preventing shingles from occurring or lessening the symptoms should it develop.


(Image credit:


4 comments on “Herpes… for the eye?

  1. Sean
    July 8, 2013

    Hi was just wondering if any shingles infection on the eye can in anyway be that harmful as leading to blindness for example? and please what action will you suggest to anyone in such a situation?. Good stuff you have got here and thanks for sharing anyway.

    • visionmd
      July 8, 2013

      Yes, shingles infection (herpes virus) can be a blinding condition if not property treated. Corneal scaring is a main concern with zoster infections in the cornea. If you have a shingles infection on your face, it is best to have an ophthalmologist examine the eye to rule out corneal involvement.

  2. Michael F.
    August 29, 2013

    How do you get this infection in your eye?

    • visionmd
      August 30, 2013

      The infection usually results from reactivation of a dormant virus that is already in the body.

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This entry was posted on April 30, 2013 by in Healthcare, The Eye and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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