Herpes eye disease. Treatment and causes. | Plano Eye Health

Herpes eye diseases: Herpex simplex keratitis and herpes zoster ophthalmicus

herpes eye disease

Herpes eye disease is a condition whereby two types of viruses, namely the herpes simplex type 1 and herpes zoster viruses, attack your eyes. Many people usually come into contact with these two types of viruses in their lives and carry the inactive versions of these viruses in their bodies. Note that these two distinct viruses are not equivalent to the viruses that result in genital herpes (the genital herpes virus is herpes simplex type 2). Rather, herpes eye disease is not considered as a sexually transmitted disease.

Herpes simplex type 1: In the eye, this virus usually causes an infection of the cornea. Such an infection is known as herpes simplex keratitis. Herpes simplex type 1, or HSV1, typically causes an infected cornea (transparent layer forming the front part of your eye)as well as cold sores on your mouth and lips. Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Eye pain or pain in the surroundings of your eye
  • Redness in your eye
  • Tears that seem to overflow
  • Pain when you gaze at bright light sources
  • Swollen or cloudy cornea

Varicella zoster virus: When this kind of virus attacks your eye, it is known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus. This same virus leads to shingles and chickenpox. Symptoms of herpes zoster ophthalmicus entail but are not limited to:

  • Intense pain around your eyes, in your scalp or on one side of the face
  • Sores, redness and rash on your eyelids and in the areas surrounding your eye
  • A rash on the skin surface of your nose
  • Redness in your eye
  • Cloudy or swollen cornea
  • Flu-like symptoms (slight fever for instance)
  • Forehead numbness prior to the rash

Symptoms like forehead numbness might be a result of the herpes virus.

How does herpes eye disease develop?

The herpes simplex 1 and varicella zoster viruses typically exist in your body as dormant or inactive viruses, around the nerve fibers in humans without being a health hazard. Sometimes, however, these viruses would begin to multiply or migrate from one area of the body to another, leading to herpes disease. Herpes diseases usually occur when your body’s immune system is compromised by some other health issue.

How are these herpes eye diseases treated?

As both of these viruses are part of the umbrella of herpes viruses, various medications are required to address them.

As herpes is a virus, antibiotics like penicillin would not work as treatments. Instead, antiviral medications are examples of drugs that will be effective against herpes infections.

Your eye doctor might prescribe antiviral pills, eye drops, or both. Also, you might be given steroid eye drops to control your herpes eye disease. That being said, these steroid eye drops have the risk of increasing the pressure in your eye. When you take steroid eye drops, you might have to make regular visits to your eye doctor to monitor your eye condition.

Moreover, your doctor might also give you an eye drop that ensures that the pupil (the hole in the centre of your eye that permits light rays to enter and strike onto your retina at the back of your eye) of your eye remains dilated (open). Such eye drops would stop spasms in your eye muscles to relieve any pain.

While there is currently no “cure” for the infections caused by herpes viruses, visit your eye doctor for treatments to mitigate the infection and reduce inflammation. Your eye doctor can even advise you if long-term medication is suitable for your eye condition.

If you are in Singapore, book an eye check appointment using our planoEyecheck platform.


Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Herpetic Eye Disease: Types, Symptoms, Causes & Treatments. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8861-herpetic-eye-disease> [Accessed 12 October 2021].

​​WebMD. 2021. Eye Health and Herpes Viruses. [online] Available at: <https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/herpes-viruses-eyes> [Accessed 12 October 2021].

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