The following article provides information about ocular herpes (herpes on the eye), which usually occurs as an inflammation of the cornea (herpes corneae). The causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a herpes disease in the eye are explained below.
What is ocular herpes?
According to DigoPaul, eye herpes is inflammation of one or both eyes. Mostly the cornea is affected (herpes corneae), possibly also the conjunctiva or the eyelids. It is an infectious disease of the eye.
A herpes infection of the eye is caused by the herpes virus (herpes simplex) of type 1 or 2. The pathogen is therefore the same as for the more well-known cold sores herpes. Often – but not always – the eye herpes is a dragged-on cold sore infection (herpes labiae).
Herpesvirus infection of the cornea is one of the most common causes of corneal inflammation in adulthood. You can hardly protect yourself effectively against infection with herpes viruses. Herpes viruses are transmitted through the breath (droplet infection) or direct body contact (smear infection). An estimated 90 percent of the population has already been affected by a herpes infection and will carry the virus from now on.
Herpesvirus inflammation can subsequently recur, especially if the immune system is weakened – for example due to other diseases, an unhealthy lifestyle, hormonal changes or stress. Such an inflammation usually occurs on the lips (cold sores, herpes labialis), but can also manifest itself in other parts of the body – such as the eye.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
A herpes infection in the eye can manifest itself in different ways, depending on which parts of the eye are affected. Not all of the above symptoms have to appear at the same time. However, the appearance of one or more vesicles on the eyelid is typical. These correspond to the characteristic lip vesicles in a cold sore. But blisters on the edge of the eyelid are not always found in ocular herpes. The affected eye is often reddened. It itches, burns and also tears.
- Corneal inflammation caused by herpes viruses: reddening of the affected eye, sensation of a foreign body (“sand in the eye”), sensitivity to light, impaired vision, burning or itching, tearing and oozing of the eye ; if the eyelids are affected, cold sores appear here as on the lips
- Conjunctivitis caused by herpes viruses: reddening and swelling of the conjunctiva, itching, burning, sticky eyes in the morning, oozing and tearing of the eyes
The patient often complains of a foreign body sensation in the affected eyes. Usually only one eye is affected, but sometimes both. Eye herpes on the eyelids is harmless and easy to treat. In rare cases, the conjunctiva is affected and conjunctivitis develops. However, this heals quickly on its own.
Even if the cornea is affected, the treatment is usually straightforward. If an infection of the cornea is not treated, however, scarring can develop there, which can cloud the lens and, under certain circumstances, lead to severe impairment of vision. However, an infestation of the choroid is very dangerous.
If the infected choroid is not treated intensively, blindness can occur. The herpes viruses reside in the body for a lifetime and become active under certain conditions. Therefore, an ocular herpes can occur again and again in the event of stress or other diseases.
Diagnosis & course
Immediate clarification by an ophthalmologist is essential if any of the symptoms listed are present. Only a specialist can determine what the disease is. With early drug treatment, a herpes infection in the eye can be contained easily and easily. A doctor will take a swab of the eye to determine whether or not you have a herpes infection and initiate therapy based on the result.
When a herpes infection first occurs, often only the upper layer of the skin is affected. As a result, the chances of recovery are good with rapid treatment. So far, however, there are no drugs that can kill viruses completely. Since the herpes viruses therefore remain in the body permanently, a renewed attack of infection can occur again at any time if the immune system is irritated or weakened.
The more frequent corneal inflammation caused by herpes viruses, the more serious the infection is usually: deeper layers of tissue are also affected and scarring on the cornea can occur, which reduces vision. If the infection becomes chronic, it can lead to other diseases of the eye, such as cataracts.
Eye herpes can be associated with blisters and redness around the eyes. If the cornea is inflamed, the affected person may experience pain. In addition, there may be a feeling of foreign body in the eye. Visual impairments and photophobia are also possible.
Ocular herpes can affect other areas of the body as well. It can sensory disturbances on the forehead, the nose and occurring on the nose, which are associated with severe pain. The skin can be painful and may show a decreased sensation of sensitivity, that is, it may feel numb but still be in severe pain. Ocular herpes can also be accompanied by a fever and general weakness.
Eye herpes can keep coming back. The viruses remain in the ganglia of the human body for a long time. They also reproduce. The deep layers of the cornea are particularly affected by the repetitive herpes attacks. This often leads to dense scarring. The cornea can swell and cloudiness can occur, which severely impedes vision.
Immune reactions to virus antigens in the cell surfaces of the deep layers of the cornea can also occur. As a result, clouding and permanent vision impairment can occur. If ocular herpes is not treated promptly and adequately, blindness can not be ruled out.
When should you go to the doctor?
Eye flu usually heals on its own within a few days or weeks without medical advice. However, if the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, a doctor should be consulted. If the symptoms increase in the course of the disease and the eyesight is increasingly impaired, you should also go to the doctor’s office with an eye flu.
Anyone who works in the food sector or has a lot to do with other people on a professional basis must have the complaints clarified quickly for hygienic reasons alone. The same applies if a high level of concentration is required at work and there is an acute risk of accidents due to the eye flu. Patients with a pre-existing immune system should have eye flu treated just as quickly as pregnant women, the elderly and other risk groups.
Consequential diseases such as conjunctivitis or uveitis should be medically clarified immediately. Prompt treatment can usually prevent further complications. If secondary symptoms such as severe headache or swelling of the lower eyelids have already developed, hospitalization is recommended for further clarification.
Treatment & Therapy
If there is a herpes infection in the eye, the ophthalmologist will prescribe antivirals that curb the explosive multiplication of the virus and thus improve the course of the disease. These prescription drugs are given locally in the form of eye drops, eye ointment, and / or tablets.
Drug therapy can be supported by cooling the eye (especially if there is swelling), avoiding direct sunlight and taking the greatest possible care of the eyes. Under no circumstances should you use non-prescription eye drops if you suspect an ocular herpes. It is not possible to self-treat herpes infections in the eye and an immediate visit to an ophthalmologist to clarify the diagnosis and therapy is urgently recommended.
There is less risk of infection with ocular herpes than with cold sores. However, particular attention should be paid to hygiene in order to avoid the infection of other people living in the household. Towels and washcloths should not be shared and the laundry should be washed with disinfecting detergent until the acute infection has completely healed.
Outlook & forecast
Ocular herpes is an infectious disease that varies in severity. The prospect and prognosis of a prompt and carefree recovery depends on this.
Affected people complain of severe redness and excessive itching in many cases. If this clinical picture remains completely without medical or drug treatment, then these symptoms will become increasingly worse. Increased reddening can lead to the formation of pus. The affected person’s eye can become increasingly sticky and a foreign body sensation can set in.
These side effects will persist if there is no treatment by a doctor. If medical and drug treatment is resorted to, then the prospect of a timely recovery looks more positive. The existing infection can be fought effectively with the right medication, so that the possible side effects are more bearable and more pleasant.
A significant improvement can be expected within seven days if the patient resorts to appropriate treatment. Otherwise, an ocular herpes can persist for several weeks and individual side effects can intensify considerably.
A herpes infection on the eye can be prevented by careful observance of hygienic measures and a healthy lifestyle. With 90% of the population carrying herpes viruses, the most important prevention is to avoid acute outbreaks of herpes. This is best achieved by strengthening the immune system as best as possible, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and avoiding excessive stress as far as possible.
In the case of acute herpes on other parts of the body – usually the lips – it is particularly important not to bring the infection into the eyes from the affected area with your fingers, for example by carelessly rubbing the eyes with your fingers.
Existing ocular herpes is an infectious disease that, ideally, should be treated with medication and medication. If the affected person opts for such treatment, a full and timely recovery can be expected. Occurring symptoms and complaints subside, so that no complications or side effects arise.
When this bacterial infectious disease has completely subsided, the person concerned can forego further visits to the doctor entirely. Even without regular visits to the doctor, this disease does not return. This is a different matter if complications have arisen with the existing ocular herpes. The human eye is a very sensitive organ, so you shouldn’t wait long to see a doctor.
The same applies to follow-up examinations, if these are absolutely necessary. In the case of ocular herpes, permanent consequential damage can occur if there are no regular follow-up examinations. An existing inflammation in the eye has to subside completely, otherwise a life-threatening abscess can form. Blood poisoning or other life-threatening complications are possible if the affected person forego follow-up examinations altogether.
An ophthalmologist should be consulted at the latest at the first signs of aggravation. Follow-up examinations do not necessarily have to be carried out after overcoming ocular herpes. However, if complications have arisen beforehand, the entire course of the disease should be observed by a doctor.
You can do that yourself
Anyone who suffers from an eye infection due to herpes viruses should immediately seek appropriate medical therapy to prevent possible consequential damage. In parallel to the medical treatment, the person affected can obtain relief with numerous self-help tips and accelerate the recovery process.
When dealing with ocular herpes on a day-to-day basis, it is advisable to use cold compresses to alleviate the symptoms. With artificial tears, dryness in the eye and its unpleasant symptoms can be reduced. Furthermore, over-the-counter eye ointments and eye drops with heparin are helpful. Anyone who suffers from ocular herpes should avoid exposure to direct sunlight and protect the body. With relaxation exercises or meditations, stress, which burdens the entire organism in an unhealthy way, can be relieved and recovery can be boosted.
If you have ocular herpes, it is extremely important to protect your immediate surroundings from possible infection. Therefore, all hygiene items, such as washcloths or towels, should not be used by other people. Likewise, the person concerned should adhere to good hand disinfection.
The handshake with other people should be minimized if possible during the eye disease. People who suffer from herpes at regular intervals are particularly susceptible. These people have too few antibodies in their immune systems and are therefore at greater risk of getting worse.