The type 1 herpes simplex virus causes ocular herpes. This common virus infection among humans also causes cold sores, the facial blisters that sometimes occur following a cold or fever. There are two types of herpes simplex viruses. Type 1 normally affects the face and eyes, and type 2 primarily causes genital infections. Ocular herpes is a different strain of herpes than the one associated with sexually transmitted diseases. It is estimated that about 500,000 people in the United States have experienced some form of ocular herpes.
Types of eye herpes
There are a couple of different types of eye herpes. Herpes keratitis is the most common and it affects only the top layer of the cornea. This is the mildest form of ocular herpes that usually heals without scaring. Stromal keratitis is another type of ocular herpes characterized by deeper penetration of the infection. This type of herpes may lead to scarring, loss of vision and, occasionally, blindness. Iridocyclitis is the third and yet another serious type of eye herpes that involves inflammation of the iris and surrounding tissues. It is characterized by severe sensitivity to light, blurred vision, pain and redness.
The virus normally spreads from person to person. The source of infection is usually the saliva or nasal secretions of a carrier. Carrier of a virus is normally a close friend or a family member who doesn’t even have to manifest symptoms of the infection. The virus is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual. The virus enters the body through a nose and mouth, breaking in the skin of mucous membranes. Infected people that show no visible symptoms may still shed and transmit virus through their skin.
Signs and symptoms of ocular herpes
A lot of different signs and symptoms are associated with ocular herpes. Most commonly, patients experience inflammation of the cornea accompanied by pain and irritation. Other symptoms include swelling around the eyes, tearing, recurrent eye infections, irritation, foreign body sensation, eye redness, eye sores, watery discharge, sensitivity to light, cloudy cornea, and blurry vision.
Treatment for eye herpes
The treatment usually depends on what type of ocular herpes patient has. Depending on the type of herpes, different regions of the eye can be affected: epithelium, corneal stroma, iris, retina, etc.
Patients are usually advised to stop wearing contact lenses while they are under a therapy. The treatment usually involves topical antiviral medications, usually in a form of eye drops. Sometimes, doctors may prescribe steroid drops to decrease inflammation and prevent corneal scaring. In more serious cases of the infection, doctor may treat eye herpes by scraping away the infected corneal epithelial cells with a cotton swab or corneal "spatula" instrument.