Eye herpes or ocular herpes is a viral infection of the eye caused by the herpes simplex virus, the same virus that causes cold sores. It is a contagious infection and is recurrent in nature. It usually affects the cornea and cause corneal inflammation. Herpes simplex virus enters the body through the nose and the mouth, and can remain dormant in the nerves for several days to years before causing ocular herpes.
Types of Eye Herpes
Depending on the location of the infection, herpes of the eye can be divided into three types - herpes keratitis, stromal keratitis, and iridocyclitis. Herpes keratitis is the most common type of ocular herpes, where the infection occurs in the cornea.
If the top layer of the cornea is affected, then the infection can be treated easily, as it usually does not cause scarring. However, an infection of the deeper layer of the cornea or stromal keratitis can cause scarring. Scarring of the cornea can cause loss of vision or blindness, if left untreated. An infection of the iris is known as iridocyclitis, which is a rare condition. Iridocyclitis usually manifests in pain and inflammation of the eye and blurred vision.
Causes of Eye Herpes
As mentioned already, ocular herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus. But what exactly activates the virus in our body is not known properly. Certain factors like stress, exposure to sunlight, fever, trauma, or surgery can reactivate the virus. As it is a contagious disease, it can easily spread from an infected person to another, and also from one infected eye to the other. Generally, ocular herpes has been found to affect only one eye, and recur in about 40 to 50% of total cases.
Sings of Ocular Herpes
Ocular herpes can produce symptoms like redness and inflammation of the eye, especially of the cornea. The severity of the symptoms depends to a great extent on the location of the infection. Nevertheless, the following are the most common symptoms that this condition can produce:
- Irritation and pain in the eye
- Inflammation of the cornea and swelling around the eye
- Redness of the eye
- Excessive Tearing
- Watery or sticky eye discharge
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision
Treatment of Ocular Herpes
The location and the severity of the infection determine the course of treatment. When only the outer layer or the epithelium of the cornea is infected, it can be treated with antiviral eye drops and ointments. Oral antiviral medications can also help cure the infection. Sometimes, an ophthalmologist may perform debridement, wherein the infected epithelial cells of the cornea are scraped away with the help of a spatula.
But if the infection is severe, and it affects the deeper layers of the cornea, then steroid eye drops can be required, along with the regular antiviral eye drops. Steroid drops can help alleviate the inflammation of the cornea, and prevent scarring. However, they can reduce the efficiency of the immune system of the eye, which is an important side effect of this medication. If the usual treatment options fail to control the symptoms and cure the infection, then surgery may be required. Surgery is usually performed in the case of corneal scarring. But if the infection causes severe corneal scarring, then physicians may opt for corneal transplantation.
Ocular herpes cannot be cured permanently, as the disease is recurrent in nature. The virus responsible for causing the infection remains within the body, and gets reactivated from time to time. However, a severe infection of the cornea, and the resulting complications (like loss of vision or blindness) can be prevented with early detection and treatment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.