Herpes eye infection is a disease caused due to a virus which is known as the herpes simplex virus. This infection can even cause permanent blindness, in certain cases.
Herpes eye infection, also referred to as herpes simplex eye infection, ocular herpes or eye herpes, is a viral infection of the eye caused due to a virus named herpes simplex virus. The infection caused due to this virus usually does not pose any serious problems. However, in rare cases, it may be a cause of eyesight problems.
Herpes Simplex Virus
There are basically two types of herpes simplex virus―herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV2). Type 1 virus is the one that causes cold sores on the lips and ocular herpes, while type 2 commonly causes genital herpes, and rarely, is a reason for cold sores and ocular herpes. The most common cases of ocular herpes are due to infection of type 1 herpes simplex virus. It can be found in many people, but the virus usually does not cause any trouble. Most people get this infection in their childhood, and the virus stays in the nerve cells of the body for a lifetime, without leading to any type of problem. However, sometimes, this virus multiplies and may cause cold sores around the lips, or even enter the eye, thereby causing an infection.
The infection of the virus for the first time is referred as primary infection. The virus can pass from one person to another through contact. Close contact with any person who has cold sores can infect a person with HSV. The virus remains inactive and does not cause any health problems. Some people do not develop any symptoms of infection for their entire lives, while some may show signs of HSV infection. In such people, the virus suddenly reactivates and spreads to the face and eye area. The reason for this reactivation is not clear as yet. Excessive exposure to the sun, sickness, and mental stress are considered to be some of the factors that trigger the reactivation of the virus in the body.
The cornea is a thin outer layer of the eye, which is made up of two layers―epithelium and stroma. In herpes eye infection, the cornea is the area which is infected by the virus. When the epithelium of the cornea is affected, the eye infection is referred as epithelial keratitis, while infection of the stroma is called stromal keratitis. Infection of the stroma is more dangerous than that of the epithelium. In rare cases, the inner parts of the eye, like the iris and retina, are infected.
It is observed that people who belong to the age group of 30 – 40 generally develop the symptoms of herpes eye infection. These symptoms indicate reactivation of the HSV, and they occur after many years of primary infection. It usually causes a problem in one eye, and can eventually spread to the other eye.
- Eye redness
- Eye irritation
- Eye sores
- Blurred vision
- Water discharge through eye
- Eye pain
- Swollen eyelid
- Cloudy cornea
Diagnosis and Treatment
The doctor initially observes the infected eye surface with the help of a magnifier, and tries to identify the infected area. The cornea usually has scars or ulcers. Certain eye tests are also conducted in order to confirm the diagnosis of the infection. Treatment depends on the area of the eye that is infected. Epithelial infections can be treated with some eye drops and medicines. These do not kill the virus in the patient’s body, but reduce their number and prohibit further multiplication of the virus. When the inner layers of the cornea are infected, the treatment may include the use of steroid drops, along with eye drops and other medications. Steroid drops can have certain side effects, and hence, should be used only when advised by a doctor.
It is observed that in almost 50% of the cases, infection reoccurs after one week or one year. Frequent recurrence of herpes simplex eye infection is very harmful for eyesight, and hence, medical intervention is a must. If proper treatment is given, the chances of recurrence of the infection are very less.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.