Treating Ocular Herpes Early Can Protect Your Eyesight and Long-Term Health

Ocular herpes, also known as eye herpes or herpetic eye disease, is a type of corneal disease caused by a viral infection related to the herpes simplex virus I (HSV-I), known for causing cold sores. Although this infection can reoccur, the doctors at Broberg Eye Care in Austin, TX, can typically control the infection with antiviral drugs. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology™ (AAO), roughly 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with some form of herpetic eye disease each year.

Close up of inflamed cornea

Left untreated, ocular herpes can have lasting harmful effects.

A Closer Look at Herpetic Eye Disease

Herpetic eye disease causes sores and blisters to develop on the corneal surface. Over time, the inflammation can spread deeper into the cornea and cause permanent scarring and loss of vision. Symptoms often include:

  • Swelling around the eyes
  • Eye infection (oftentimes reoccurring)
  • Excess tearing or discharge
  • Eye redness and irritation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Ongoing sensation of foreign object in the eye

There are several forms of the disease that range in severity, including:

  • Herpes Keratitis: As the most common, this form affects the outer layer of the cornea (epithelium). If caught early, it will not cause permanent scarring.
  • Herpes Stromal Keratitis: Although rare, this form affects the deeper layers of the cornea and is the leading cause of corneal scarring, known for causing loss of vision and blindness.
  • Herpes Simplex Iridocyclitis: This form affects the iris and surrounding tissues within the eye. Iridocyclitis causes increased inflammation, swelling, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, and eye pain.
  • Herpes Retinitis: Once the infection penetrates the back of your eye, it can severely and permanently damage your retina. Symptoms can include impaired night vision, floaters, sensitivity to light, and loss of peripheral vision.

How Does the Condition Develop?

The herpes simplex virus is generally contracted when you come into close proximity with someone who has a cold sore or active outbreak. It can be transmitted through the nose or mouth. Once the herpes virus enters the body, it will travel into the nerves of your face where it can remain dormant for years or develop into an outbreak. Because the virus remains in the body for life, patients have a 40 to 50 percent chance of an outbreak reoccurring if it remain untreated. Certain factors, such as stress, fever, trauma, or surgery, have been known to cause outbreaks. Although it typically only affects one eye, it can be easily transmitted to your other eye, especially if you rub both eyes while experiencing an outbreak.

Common Treatments for Ocular Herpes

If herpes is suspected, the ophthalmologist will perform an eye exam using a slit lamp microscope to examine the corneal surface and underlying layers. You will also discuss your medical history and the symptoms you are experiencing during the appointment.

According to the AAO, roughly 50,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with some form of herpetic eye disease each year.

Once you receive a diagnosis, the type of treatment we recommend will depend on the severity of the infection and how deep it has spread. For minor cases, antiviral eye drops, ointments, and oral medications can help control the infection and protect the cornea from further damage.
 Patients will be encouraged to avoid wearing contact lenses while undergoing treatment to prevent the infection from spreading. If the infection has spread deeper into the cornea, the doctor may prescribe steroid drops to reduce inflammation and prevent scarring.

If the cornea has been irreversibly damaged, or medication has been unsuccessful in controlling the infection, a corneal transplant may be required to restore your vision. During this procedure, the diseased cornea will be removed and replaced with healthy donor tissue.

Schedule Your Consultation

Catching herpetic eye disease in its earliest stages can protect your eyesight and overall health. If you are experiencing troubling symptoms, please contact our team at Broberg Eye Care right away online or by calling (512) 447-6096. 

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