Herpes of the Eye/Ocular Herpes

It is estimated that over 50,000 cases of eye herpes, or ocular herpes, occurs in the United States every year. Herpes outbreaks affecting the eye are caused by a virus.

What is ocular herpes?

Ocular herpes is a viral infection of the eye that can cause inflammation and scarring. There are different types of eye herpes that can range from mild to severe depending on the part of the eye that is affected: 

  • Herpes keratitis is the mildest type of ocular herpes, affecting only the outer layer of the cornea. 
  • Stromal keratitis affects the inner layers of the cornea and may cause corneal scarring which can result in blindness. 
  • Iridocyclitis involves inflammation of the iris which can impair vision and cause eye discomfort and pain.

Symptoms of ocular herpes

There are several symptoms of ocular herpes which may include: 

  • Swelling around the eyes 
  • Watery eyes 
  • Red, irritated eyes 
  • Blurred vision 
  • General eye discomfort or pain

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect you may have ocular herpes, it is important to see an ophthalmologist for evaluation. A proper diagnosis is important as other conditions may cause similar symptoms.

Causes of ocular herpes

Eye herpes is caused by type 1 herpes simplex virus. This virus commonly presents itself in the nose or mouth in the form of cold sores but can travel through the nerves to the eye and cause an outbreak there resulting in ocular herpes. When the virus affects the tissues of the eye it causes inflammation and scarring. An individual infected with the virus can transmit it to another individual during an outbreak. Once one is infected, the virus may cause recurrent outbreaks or lie dormant for months or years.

Treatment for ocular herpes

While there is no cure, ocular herpes can often be effectively treated with oral medication or eye drops. In some cases, a procedure called debridement is performed to remove the infected cornea cells. A special contact lens will need to be worn after this procedure to protect the eye while it heals. When the inner layers of the cornea are infected, steroid drops may also be used to prevent corneal scarring. If permanent corneal scarring occurs, a corneal transplant may be required to restore vision.

If you suspect you have ocular herpes, contact your ophthalmologist immediately for evaluation, as it is important to begin treatment as early as possible.