Herpes in the eye is referred to as "Ocular Herpes". It is a disease that causes pain, itch and swelling around the eye of the patient. While it is not really a dangerous health problem, one must still watch out for the red flags that might lead to unwanted results.
So far there is no proper cure for herpes but treatments can be done that can help alleviate the pain, decrease the virus lifespan, and prevent further outbreaks.
Although it carries a similar name, ocular herpes is not the same as the genital herpes. Ocular herpes cannot be transmitted through sex and originates from two types of viruses: the Herpes simplex type I and Varicellazoster virus.
Herpes simplex type I is the virus behind cold sores in the facial areas such as nose, lips, cheeks and ears. Once this virus infected the cornea, it results into an ocular herpes that doctors refer to as "herpes simplex keratis"
Varicellazoster virus is the virus responsible for chicken pox and shingles - a disease in the nervous system. Ocular herpes caused by this virus is called "herpes zoster ophthalmicus".
Effectiveness of the treatment depends on the patient's health and proper identification of the virus.
Just like any type of virus, this condition can be transmitted from one patient to a healthy host through direct or indirect contact.
Both the herpes simplex and varicellazoster viruses are very common among adults. The National Eye Institute reported that more than 400,000 Americans suffered herpes in the eye at least once in their life and almost 100% of adults beyond 60 years of age are suffering from it - whether healthy or not.
Once the virus infected the patient, it burrows itself in the nerve fibers of the person and will remain inactive for a long while. If the host managed to maintain a good health, then it is not uncommon for the condition to remain dormant and never wake up at all.
It is rare for herpes in the eye to cause an outbreak all by itself. It can only be activated when the immune system of the patient is negatively affected by a health problem such as surgical or dental trauma, fever, sunburn and too much stress.
After activation, the virus will multiply and spread throughout the body. It is a long-term virus that has a 40-50% chance of appearing again after the first outbreak. There is no specific time when it can reoccur; it can take a few weeks or several years after the first appearance, but it varies on the health of the individual.
Types of Eye Herpes
While ocular herpes is a common infection that heals by itself, there are reported cases of it going worse. The strength of ocular herpes can go from minor irritation, to leeching your health, and endangering your sense of sight. There are 3 types of eye herpes namely:
- Herpes Keratis - An ocular herpes that occurs on the epithelium-top layer of the cornea. This is the most prevalent case of ocular herpes. It is not life-threatening and can heal without much medicinal aid.
- Stromal Keratis - A rare ocular herpes that has resulted from late response of the immune system. This is the event that happens after the virus spread deeper inside the cornea. Although only a few cases were recorded, the NEI warned that if left unattended, stromal keratis can cause permanent damage to your vision. It is largely responsible for most cases of corneal scarring in the US-which will ultimately lead to blindness.
- Iridocyclitis - The most serious type of the condition. This infection happens when the herpes virus reached the iris and infected the surrounding eye tissues - causing severe eye inflammation, blurry vision, extreme sensitivity to light, swelling and reddening of the eye, and pain.
As there is no cure for herpes, surgical option might not be out of hand in this situation.
Herpes in the Eye Symptoms
As there are different types of viruses that cause herpes in the eye and their symptoms differ with each other, there are also cases when their symptoms are the same. Similar symptoms include:
- Irritation around the eye
- Blurry vision
- Inflammation of the cornea
- Swelling of the eye
- Watery eyes
- Rash and sores
An eye specialist might do some further checking to properly identify the virus. He might check the pressure of your eye sockets and drop some fluorescein- a special dye that reacts to certain viruses- in your eye. To protect your health, accuracy in identification is a top priority. Consult your health care provider before taking any further actions.
Due to the fact that herpes is a virus, it cannot be treated using conventional antibiotics like penicillin. Only antiviral drugs are powerful enough to neutralize viruses. But bear in mind that due to its potency, one must be careful not to abuse it or else it can worsen the infection and damage your health.
The main factor to consider before buying any medicine is to identify the location of the infected area, whether be it the corneal stroma, retina, iris, or corneal epithelium. It is important to know as it will judge how serious the infection is.
If the infection was limited only on the outer layer of the cornea, then doctors can prescribe simple ointments, or antiviral pills and eye drops to take care of the problem. Do not wear contact lens when taking antiviral drops.
It may take some time before you can see some improvements but do not be discouraged; the medicine will do its job. Also, even if the pain has subsided, do not stop the medication unless your doctor said so or else it can return as a stronger virus.
If the problem persisted in the cornea, doctors can do other methods. One of them is to prescribe a special antiviral drop called "corticosteroids". Corticosteroids are powerful drugs that have the side effect of causing pressure in the eye. Regular check-ups have to be done to make sure the drug will not affect the patient's overall health.
Another method that doctors can use is the steroid drops. This type of drug must not be taken lightly. When used inappropriately, steroids can damage the patient's immune system- making the patient more vulnerable to other health problems.
Steroid drops were also reported to promote further infection of the ocular herpes. So in order to counter this, steroid drops are often applied together with other antiviral drugs and therapeutic contact lens that would help prevent secondary virus infection, while the patient heals.
If the doctor was unable to help it and the virus caused too much scarring, it is sad to say that surgery might be the only option left.
As much as possible, doctors will avoid any unwanted operation. But if the problem has became so serious to the point that it rendered the eyes useless, a corneal transplant from a healthy donor would be the only method that can restore the patient's sight.