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What are common viral infections in eyes?

There are several types of viral infections that can affect your eyes. Two common ones are Herpes Simplex and Herpes Zoster.

What is Herpes Simplex?

eye viral infections Herpes simplex is a very common virus affecting the skin, mucous membranes, nervous system, and the eye. There are two types of herpes simplex: Type I causes cold sores or fever blisters and may involve the eye. Type II is sexually transmitted and rarely causes ocular problems. Nearly everyone is exposed to the virus during childhood. Herpes simplex is transmitted through bodily fluids, and children are often infected by the saliva of an adult. The initial infection is usually mild, causing only a sore throat or mouth. After exposure, herpes simplex usually lies dormant in the nerves that supply the eyes and skin. Later on, the virus may be reactivated by stress, heat, running a fever, sunlight, hormonal changes, trauma, or certain medications. It is more likely to recur in people who have diseases that suppress their immune system. In some cases, the recurrence is triggered repeatedly and becomes a chronic problem.

When the eye is involved, herpes simplex typically affects the eyelids, conjunctiva, and cornea. Keratitis (swelling caused by the infection) is a problem that affects the cornea and is often the first ocular sign of the disease. In some cases, the infection extends to the middle layers of the cornea, increasing the possibility of permanent scarring. Some patients develop uveitis, an inflammatory condition that affects other eye tissues.

What are the symptoms of Herpes Simplex and how is it detected?

Symptoms include pain, redness in the eye, tearing, sensitivity to light, irritation, scratchiness, and decreased vision (depending on the location and extent of the infection). Herpes simplex is diagnosed with a slit lamp examination. Tinted eye drops that highlight the affected areas of the cornea may be instilled to help the doctor evaluate the extent of the infection.
How is Herpes Simplex treated?
Treatment of herpes simplex keratitis depends on the severity. An initial outbreak is typically treated with a topical and sometimes an oral anti-viral medication. The doctor may gently scrape the affected area of the cornea to remove the diseased cells. Patients who experience permanent corneal scarring as a result of severe and recurrent infections may require a corneal transplant to restore their vision.

What is Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster, commonly known as “shingles,” is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chicken pox. After the initial exposure, herpes zoster lies dormant in certain nerve fibers. It may become active as a result of many factors such as aging, stress, suppression of the immune system, and certain medications. Because of the layout of the nerves in which herpes zoster resides, it only affects one side of the body or face during an outbreak. It begins as a rash that lead to blisters and sores on the skin. When the nerve branch that supplies the eye is involved, the forehead, nose, and eyelids may also be affected. Sores on the nose are a key signal of possible eye involvement.

Herpes zoster can cause several problems with the eye and surrounding skin that may have long-term effects. Inflammation and scarring of the cornea, along with conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva) and iritis (inflammation of the iris) are typical problems that require treatment. In some cases, the retina and optic nerve are involved. Eye problems caused by severe or chronic outbreaks of herpes zoster may include: Glaucoma, cataract, double vision, and scarring of the cornea and eyelids.

What are the symptoms of Herpes Zoster and how is it detected?

Herpes zoster causes a wide range of problems symptoms the skin and the eye. They range in severity depending on the extent of the outbreak. Some symptoms occur indirectly from the inflammation caused by the disease and include flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, fatigue); rash; red, sensitive or sore skin; blisters and sores on the skin; pain (may be burning or throbbing); itching; and tingling. Symptoms directly affecting the eye include redness, sensitivity to light, swollen eyelids, dry eyes, and blurred vision (depending on how the eye is affected). Many who experience this infection find it extremely painful. This acutely painful phase usually lasts several weeks; however, some continue to experience pain or neuralgia long after the outbreak has cleared.

When the eye is affected, the doctor will perform a thorough examination with a slit lamp microscope and an ophthalmoscope. Visual acuity and intraocular pressure are also monitored. Signs of breakout on the face and body are noted.

How is Herpes Zoster treated?

Herpes zoster is treated with anti-viral, pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Eye drops and ointments may be prescribed to treat ocular problems. In some cases, secondary conditions caused by herpes zoster may require surgery. Those who are infected should avoid contact with people who may be more susceptible to contracting the disease such as: The elderly, children, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

As a reminder, any time you are having eye pain, notice changes in your vision, or are not seeing clearly, you should immediately call for an appointment with an eye care professional.

Here at The Eye Centers of Racine & Kenosha we keep up to date on new research and new treatments. Call 262 637 0500 today!  to scheduled your appointment.

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