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Symptoms and Signs of Eye Herpes

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.

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

Eye Herpes (Herpes Simplex Keratitis) Symptoms

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.

Eye Herpes (Herpes Simplex Keratitis) Causes

  • 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.

Common Eye Problems and Infections Slideshow

Common Eye Problems and Infections Slideshow

When it comes to signs of eye disease, Americans are blind to the facts. A recent survey showed that while nearly half (47%) of Americans worry more about going blind than losing their memory or their ability to walk or hear, almost 30% of those surveyed admitted to not getting their eyes checked.

The following slides take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of some of the most common eye diseases.

REFERENCE:

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

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