Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Ophthalmicus

herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus

Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Ophthalmicus

There are many infections and diseases that can affect the health and function of the eyes. Like so many parts of the body, the eyes are both amazingly resilient, and also susceptible to disease, and if we don’t take care of them, a small infection or illness can become a big problem.

Shingles is a painful disease that can affect the nervous system, lungs, liver, and brain; but did you know it can also affect the eyes? Herpes zoster is a branch of the same virus that causes chicken pox, and as we know, this virus can also cause shingles.

Herpes zoster is caused by the varicella virus. It affects around 300,000 to 500,000 people every year, and in roughly 10% to 25% of cases it spreads to the eye. When the virus affects the eyes, it is called herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO).
Herpes zoster ophthalmicus affects the eye externally and internally, and this nasty virus can often be the underlying cause of many eye infections, including uveitis and keratitis.

Of all the individuals affected by shingles each year, approximately 25% are herpes zoster ophthalmicus. And this is not a virus to be taken lightly; herpetic eye disease is the number one cause of infectious vision loss in the United States.

Symptoms of HZO

The virus can enter the system through the eyes, nose or mouth. Usually, the body’s immune system is adept at fighting the virus, but when the immune system is impaired, the virus can grow. Unfortunately, this virus can lie dormant for years. If you’ve ever had chicken pox, there is a chance that HZO could develop after the age of sixty.

The initial symptoms may seem insignificant and unrelated, such as:

  • the sensation of heat down one side of your face
  • the feeling of something in your eye
  • a persistent tension headache
  • a painful rash on the forehead or face

You may also experience fatigue, or feel a little under the weather, and you may have a low-grade fever. These are all symptoms that can be ignored in the early stages, but they can become more severe and lead to ocular inflammation, debilitating pain, and eventually, this condition can become more severe and lead corneal ulceration, scarring, and loss of vision.

Treatment for HZO

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should visit your Kelowna eye doctor as soon as possible and begin treatment immediately. It is widely advised to catch and treat HZO with oral antivirals within 72 hours, and if you are diagnosed with HZO, your doctor will prescribe an antiviral treatment. This should arrest the virus’ growth and reduce the symptoms.

The doctor may also prescribe steroid eye drops to help reduce inflammation, and it is vitally important to keep the affected areas clean.
And no matter how tempting, scratching should be avoided to ensure there is no scarring or subsequent infection from a bacterial infection.
A cool compress can help alleviate pain and discomfort, and as with any virus infection, a healthy diet and plenty of rest will give your body’s immune system the support it needs to help fight the infection.

If you are concerned about a recurring symptom, take the time to schedule an appointment with your Kelowna optometrist. Prevention is always better than cure, but if it can’t be prevented, early treatment is the best course of action when it comes to the health of your eyes.



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