Symptoms and Signs of Eye Herpes (Herpes Simplex Keratitis)

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Eye Herpes (Herpes Simplex Keratitis)

Eye herpes (herpes simplex keratitis) is an infection of the cornea caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes is a common family of viruses and most people carry some form of herpes virus in them for life. Herpes simplex keratitis is caused by a reactivation of an already present herpes simplex virus. After an initial infection, the virus remains in a dormant stage within the nerves but sometimes the virus reactivates and causes further symptoms.

Symptoms of eye herpes usually affect only one eye and include pain, light sensitivity (photophobia), blurred vision, tearing, and eye redness. Symptoms of eye herpes can resemble those of common conjunctivitis, but eye pain is usually not a symptom of common conjunctivitis. Sometimes the herpes infection may reactivate and cause more severe symptoms including eye pain, blurred vision, tearing, redness, and sensitivity to bright light. Rarely, the infection worsens and the cornea swells, resulting in hazy vision. Frequent reinfection increases the risk of 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.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.