There are two types of the basic Herpes Simplex Virus, or HSV:
• Type 1 – this is the one that produces cold sores or blistering on the lips and is thought to be contracted at an early age from kissing on the mouth by family members who have the dormant virus.
In a funny way it’s good that the eye version of herpes comes from this Type 1 Herpes as symptoms and treatments are easy to deal with.
• Type 2 – this is the one that affect the genital area and although eye infection can be contracted from it, as in the case of mothers passing it on through the eyes to her baby whilst giving birth, instances are relatively rare.
So what is Herpes?
The jury is out on what Herpes really is, but most people are exposed to the virus in early years and either contract it or not – and if they do contract it the virus lays dormant ready to spring into life again.
The cold sore blisters associated with the herpes seem to come out of nowhere on the oddest occasion, although they do often accompany winter colds.
It’s not considered worthwhile visiting the doctor for such a minor ailment, but dentists see quite a few cases of course in their line of work, and they offer an effective preventative remedy:-
“At the very earliest onset of the very slightest tingly feeling, which is the first sign of a cold sore, as soon as you can – meaning as soon as you can! – hold an ice cube on it for as long as you can stand the pain”
People who have used this remedy say it really works.
Another more proven treatment is to use Zovirax ointment (Acyclovir). This is available in ointment form over the counter for cold sores and is the main line of treatment for epithelial herpetic keratitis of the eye. The eye ointment requires a prescription by a therapeutically qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Occasionally herpes cold sores are recurrent. In this case preventative oral Acyclovir has been shown to reduce recurrence.
Ocular (Eye) Herpes
Of the millions of people who get herpes cold sores every year only about 2% will go on to get an eye herpes infection, and whilst with a cold sore it’s just a case of waiting it out, with the eye version it’s best to consult an eye-care professional such as an optometrist.
There are several variations of eye herpes that need anything from mild attention to serious treatment to prevent serious vision loss:
• Epithelial Keratitis – this is the commonest form of eye herpes and affects the top layer of the cornea. A course of eye drops is usually sufficient to clear it up.
• Stromal Keratitis – affects the deeper part of the cornea and so steroid eye drops are often prescribed, but only under strict supervision of a therapeutically qualified optometrist to ensure there will be no loss of vision.
• Herpetic Uveitis – a particular type of uveitis caused by herpes and sometimes present with keratitis. Uveitis is an inflammation of the inside of the eye called the uvea.
• Herpetic Retinitis – in this case the herpes virus infects the rear of the eye in the retina.
Symptoms include those exhibited in many diseases and disorders of the eye and it takes an experienced eye-care professional to detect the condition:
• Sensitivity to light
• Bumps on the eyelid
• Pain in or around the eyes
• Red or “pink” eye, typically seen with conjunctivitis
• Vision becoming gradually blurred
Causes and Prevention
Knowing the causes of Eye Herpes can help in those contracting the condition from having too many recurrences:
- Mainly due to contact with another person with the condition
- Too much rubbing of the eyes
- Eye strain, particularly from over use of computers – this one is controversial.
Sometimes Eye Herpes becomes recurrent and the only way to try and reduce recurrences is with the use of oral Acyclovir. It is a relatively benign drug with few side effects. This is best prescribed by a corneal specialist, as recurrent herpes in the eye can lead to blindness if not treated promptly.