Ocular Herpes

May 10, 2012 No Comments by

Most people have heard of genital herpes, which causes blistering in the genital areas after intimate contact with an infected person. But, were you aware of the fact that herpes can also affect your eyes?  Even more amazing is the fact that nearly half a million cases of ocular herpes are reported in theUnited Statesevery year!

What is Ocular Herpes?

Herpes simplex virus is a very contagious virus which causes blistering and sores of the skin.  These outbreaks can become quite serious, not to mention painful.  But, when the virus comes in contact with the eye, it can affect the cornea, retina and other inner parts of the eye. This can lead to permanent vision loss, or in the worst cases, even blindness.

Although most cases result in crusty sore eyes for a few days (similar to effects of other eye infections), in more serious cases, the vision can be impaired.  Blindness is one of the main side effects of ocular herpes that is left untreaterd.

When ocular herpes is present, the cornea is the most commonly affected. The blisters that form during an outbreak can cause some scarring on the cornea, which in time may heal on its own. When it doesn’t, the patient’s vision can become blurred and surgery may be required to remove the corneal scarring and restore clear sight.

When the herpes visors attacks the retina (this is called Herpes Retinitis), loss of vision and even blindness may occur. Other side affects of this type of ocular herpes include a sensitivity to light, pain and chronic redness of the affected eye. Thankfully, this is a much less common form of the disease.

What Causes Ocular Herpes?

Ocular herpes of the eye is much less common than genital or oral herpes (only about 500,000 cases are reported each year compared to nearly 25 million of the other varieties), but it still a fairly common disorder.

Like other forms of herpes, the virus is around all of the time. Most of us actually come in contact with the virus every day of our lives, but your bodies tend to fight off the disease.   However, when the strain is extra strong or your own immune system is weakened for some reasons, the virus is able to take hold.

Ocular herpes usually settles in the nerves along the face, making its way to the eye.   After the initial attack most patients report several recurrences within the first year or two after diagnosis. These recurrences tend to just “show up” for nor parent reason and can not really be prevented.

Treatments for Ocular Herpes

Herpes of the eye can be especially difficult to deal with, mostly because it tends to affect the eyesight during outbreaks.  Depending on the severity of the outbreak, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications and/or eye drops to keep the virus from causing permanent damage to the eye.  Some ophthalmologists also opt for trying to swab away infected cells in the office. The procedure is completely safe and does not hurt.

In the event that the herpes virus causes permanent scarring to the cornea, further surgery may be required to scrape away the scar tissue and offer better vision.

Unfortunately for many patients, these common therapies do not always offer the relief they seek, and some vision loss may occur from repeated outbreaks.  Research continues to find better and more effective treatments, but to date, therapy options are limited.

Preventing Ocular Herpes

There are several ways to prevent ocular herpes from infecting your eyes and damaging your sight.

  • For those who have regular outbreaks of ocular or facial herpes, it is very important to avoid touching the eyes (or the areas) around the eyes during an outbreak. Since herpes simplex is easily transmitted right before and during an attack, the eyes are especially vulnerable during these times.
  • In addition, avoid close knit or intimate contact with other herpes victims during outbreaks.
  • Keeping your immune system strong and healthy can also help to keep herpes from spreading to the eyes.  Take a regular multi-vitamin; eat a well balanced diet full of plenty of antioxidants and get enough sleep. Avoid ongoing stress and wash your hands regularly.
  • Seek help. If you suspect any type of eye infection (or ocular herpes) seek professional help right away. Getting a firm diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible can mean the difference between a complete recovery and permanent vision loss.

Ocular herpes is much more common than people realize. Thankfully, most doctors know what it is and can recognize its symptoms right away. This can be a big benefit for those who suffer with outbreaks of the virus and can go a long way to helping to preserve their eyesight now and in the future.

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