Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Eye Infections
WHAT IS A HERPES ZOSTER EYE INFECTION?
Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is a disease caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. You can only get shingles if you had chickenpox at one point in your life.
Shingles brings about painful blisters near nerves on one side of your body. It can then develop to your face and eyes. The virus can cause acute harm to your eyes. Early detection and immediate care can help lessen the chance of serious complications from herpes zoster eye infections.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
If you ever had chickenpox, you are at high risk of developing shingles later on in your life. After recovering from chickenpox, the chickenpox virus remains in your body. The virus can become active again if your immune system becomes weak due to:
- Aging. People over 50 years old are more prone to developing shingles.
- If you have AIDS or Hodgkin lymphoma
- Undergone chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Take certain medications like steroids
You are at higher risk of developing shingles if in the last few days/weeks/months:
- Been under a fair amount of stress
- Having a continuously poor diet
- Getting a lot of sun exposure
An individual that has shingles can spread chickenpox to a person who has never been incontact with the chickenpox virus. The virus is transmitted by contact with the blisters. The blisters are no longer infectious once they dry up and become scabs.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms of herpes zoster eye infections generally come in three stages:
- Premature stage: Sharp, piercing, itching or burning discomfort in the forehead, eyelids, or the tip or sides of the nose. You may also have fever, fatigue, hot flashes, and headaches.
- Break out stage: About 3 to 5 days after the symptoms of the premature stage begin, blisters may break out on the forehead, on or inside the eyelids, or on the tip or sides of the nose. The blisters start out clear with redness around the bottom of the blisters. Throughout 5 to 7 days the clear blisters will turn to pus or start bleeding. The virus may just affect the face area, or cause noticeable eye symptoms such as:
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Red, sore, watery eyes
- Sensitiveness to light
- Blurred vision
- Feeling like there is something in your eye or under the eyelid
- Some people just acquire eye symptoms and no blisters.
- Recovery stage: The blisters start to harden up and heal within 1 to 3 weeks and the discomfort or irritation normally subsides in 3 to 5 weeks. If the virus causes nerve damage, you may have discomfort, lack of feeling, or tingling for months or even years after the rash has healed.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Your primary care provider will ask about your medical records and symptoms and take a look at your skin and eyes. If you have fluid from blisters your primary care provider may send samples of the fluid to a lab to check for the virus. A dye may be placed onto the surface of your eye to make it easier to see if there is any damage to your eye from the infection.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
A number of medicines are useful for treating herpes zoster eye infections. Your primary care provider may:
- Give you antiviral medicine to lessen the discomfort and help with healing the blisters.
- Give you steroid medicine to lessen the discomfort and decrease swelling.
HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF?
Follow the thorough course of treatment your primary care provider prescribes. Ask your primary care provider:
- How and when you will receive your test results
- How long it will take for you to return to good health
- What activities you should steer clear from and when you can return to your daily activities
- How to take care of yourself when you are at home
- What symptoms or issues that could come up that you should watch out for and what to do if they occur
Make sure you are aware of when the best time is to come back for a checkup.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP PREVENT HERPES ZOSTER EYE INFECTIONS?
Most children get shots to help protect themselves from the chickenpox virus. If you have never had chickenpox, you can get a shot to help prevent yourself from getting the disease. There is also a shingles vaccine obtainable for people 50 years and older. It is highly recommended for those who are 60 years and older. The vaccine can help you stay clear or reduce symptoms of shingles. It can’t be used to treat shingles once you have the disease.
If you have not received the chickenpox vaccination and never had the disease, try to stay far away from people who may have an active chickenpox infection. If you are pregnant, do not go near someone with chickenpox or shingles.