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Eye Health Center

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Eye Health and Herpes Viruses

How Is Herpetic Eye Disease Diagnosed?

The two types of herpetic eye disease have different symptoms. One thing they have in common, however, is that they can both be very painful since they cause direct irritation of sensory nerves. Symptoms of herpes zoster ophthalmicus include:

  • Severe pain on one side of the face, in the scalp, or around the eyes.
  • Redness, rash, or sores on the eyelids and around the eyes, especially on the forehead. Sometimes the rash breaks out on the tip of the nose.
  • Redness of the eye.
  • Swelling and cloudiness of the cornea.

The problem is more likely to be herpes simplex keratitis if your symptoms are isolated to the eye and the skin around the eyes is unaffected. Symptoms of herpes simplex keratitis include:

  • Pain in and around only one eye
  • Redness of the eye
  • Feeling of dirt or "grit" in the eye
  • Overflowing tears
  • Pain when looking at bright light
  • Swelling or cloudiness of the cornea

Your doctor may check your eye pressure and use fluorescent dye to show the condition of the surface of your cornea.

How Is Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus Treated?

Because herpes is a virus, antibiotics are not an effective treatment. There are specific antiviral medications that can treat the condition but they must be given early enough -- within five days or so of the onset of symptoms.

Your doctor will recommend antiviral eye drops, pills, or both. No matter what kind of medication is recommended, it is important to keep using the medicine for as long as your doctor recommends. Even though the eye might start to look or feel better, the infection could come back if you stop taking your medicine too soon.

Steroid eye drops might also be recommended. Steroids can control the disease if given at the right time, but they can also raise eye pressure in some people. Patients are asked to regularly visit the eye doctor during treatment so eye pressure can be monitored.

Another type of eye drop might also be prescribed to keep the pupil dilated. This drug prevents spasms in the eye muscles and alleviates discomfort.

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