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When the Herpes virus affects the eyes

Herpes infection of the eyes, also known as ocular herpes, is more commonly caused by the virus that causes cold sores, Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), rather than HSV-2 which is sexually transmitted.

What part of the eye is normally affected?

When the eye is involved, herpes simplex typically affects the eyelids, conjunctiva, and cornea. The conjunctiva is a thin, transparent membrane that surrounds the sclera (the white of the eye) and lines the inside of the eyelid. The cornea is the bulge at the front of the eye, which is clear and glassy.

Keratitis (swelling caused by the infection), a problem affecting the cornea, 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.

Signs of Ocular Herpes

Signs and symptoms of ocular herpes can be pain, red eye, tearing, light sensitivity, irritation, scratchiness and decreased vision (dependent on the location and extent of the infection).

These symptoms could include blurred vision, discomfort caused by exposure to bright lights, pain around the eye, and redness on the eyes’ surface, especially adjacent to the cornea.

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.

If you suspect that you may have an herpes infection of the eye it is important that you see an ophthalmologist (medical eye specialist) as soon as possible.

What causes “eye herpes”?

Herpes is a very contagious virus and occasionally it can be spread to other areas of the body, such as the fingers or in this case the eyes. This is especially possible during a person’s primary outbreak (first exposure to herpes) since the virus is new to the person’s immune system at this time.

After a person has had the herpes virus for a few months their body will develop an immune response which does a pretty good job of protecting against auto-innoculation (spreading of the infection to other body areas). The exception to this is if a person is immune compromised, such as in a person with HIV, or if there is an open break in the skin that could make transmission more likely.

Can eye herpes be confused with something else?

There are many other conditions that can cause itchy eyes, such as conjunctivitis. Viruses are the most common cause. Other types include bacterial, such as chlamydia, fungal and parasitic agents (rarely).

Pink eye refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are very contagious, especially among children. The virus is similar to the type which cause the common cold. The key is hand washing to prevent spreading the virus.

Bacteria are an uncommon cause of conjunctivitis. Many physicians will give a mild antibiotic eye-drop for all cases of pink eye to prevent bacterial conjunctivitis. Other causes are allergies (allergic conjunctivitis), chemical exposure, and certain systemic diseases.

What treatment or natural herpes can help herpes on the eyes?

Anti-viral drugs, particularly orally administered Acyclovir according to one study, can help reduce recurrent infections of ocular herpes.

Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis) Eye Ointment can also be beneficial in relieving and reducing symptoms of herpes in the eye and is often available through local pharmacies or selected health care stores.

Golden seal root is a rapidly effective, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, healing tonic and is often recommended for a variety of inflamed mucous membranes conditions. It is frequently used to support damaged or infected tissues including the eyes, mouth and throat.

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