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Eye Herpes (Herpes Simplex Keratitis)

What Is Eye Herpes?

Herpes simplex keratitis is an infection of the cornea caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Also known as eye herpes, this illness should be treated by a physician as complications can arise.

What Causes Eye Herpes?

Patient Comments
  • Herpes keratitis, commonly known as eye herpes, is an inflammation of the cornea, the clear dome that covers the front part of the eye.
  • Herpes keratitis is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes is a common family of viruses, and most people carry some sort of herpes virus in them for life.
  • The condition is caused by a reactivation of an already present herpes simplex virus. The herpes simplex virus never leaves the body after an initial (or primary) infection.
  • After that primary infection, the virus remains in a dormant stage within the nerves. Sometimes, the virus reactivates and causes further symptoms. It is not known why these viruses can cause keratitis in some people but not others.
  • It usually affects only one eye and is one of the more frequent causes of blindness in one eye in the U.S.

What Are Eye Herpes Symptoms and Signs?

Patients with HSV keratitis may develop the following:

  • Pain
  • Photophobia (light sensitivity)
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Redness of the eye

A history of prior episodes will appear in patients with recurrent disease.

The diagnosis of herpes simplex infection is often overlooked because symptoms usually resemble those of common conjunctivitis. Ocular pain is usually not a symptom of common conjunctivitis. The infection may resolve on its own or, especially if the infection reactivates, it can affect the cornea more extensively, and symptoms may be more severe.

Symptoms and signs of a reactivation include eye pain, blurred vision, tearing, redness, and sensitivity to bright light. Rarely, the infection worsens and the cornea swells, making vision even more hazy. The more frequently the infection recurs, the more likely there is to be further damage to the cornea. Several recurrences may result in the formation of deep ulcers, permanent scarring, and a loss of feeling when the eye is touched. The herpes simplex virus may also cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea, and this alone can lead to significant visual impairment.

Last Reviewed 10/31/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Eye Herpes:

Eye Herpes - Causes

What causes your eye herpes?

Eye Herpes - Symptoms

What were the symptoms of your eye herpes?

Ocular Herpes Symptom

Eye Pain

Eye pain is often described as burning, sharp, shooting, dull, gritty, a feeling of "something in my eye," aching, pressure, throbbing, or stabbing. Sometimes pain originating from the eye is confused with other symptoms, such as a headache, sinus pain, toothache, or a migraine.

Eye pain is a common reason for people to seek medical care from their doctor (or an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases).

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