The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes keratitis, a viral infection of the eye. The virus is divided into two types:
Type 1: is the most common, infecting the face and causing the well-known “cold sore” or “fever blister.”
Type 2: is a sexually transmitted herpes infection that affects the genitals.
While both Type I and Type II herpes can infect the eye, Type I herpes is by far the most common cause of eye infections. By touching an active lesion and then your eye, the infection may be transmitted. Transferring Type II to the eye is extremely rare.
What Causes Herpes Keratitis in the First Place?
Type I herpes is highly infectious and is usually spread by skin contact with a carrier. Almost everyone — about 90% of the population — is infected with Type I herpes at some point in their lives.
The virus remains dormant after the initial infection, residing in nerve cells of the skin or eye. Reactivation can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
● certain medications
● UV light exposure from the sun or other sources (such as tanning beds)
● trauma (such as injury or surgery)
Herpes simplex infects the eyelids, conjunctiva, and cornea once it is found in the eye. It may even infect the inside of the eye, although this is a rare occurrence.
Signs and Symptoms
Herpes keratitis can cause the following symptoms:
● light sensitivity
● blurry vision
If the infection is only superficial, affecting only the cornea’s outer layer (known as the epithelium), it can normally heal without leaving a scar. However, if the infection spreads to the deeper layers of the cornea (which can happen over time), it can cause corneal scarring, vision loss, and even blindness. Herpes keratitis can cause serious eye damage if left untreated.
Treatment for Herpes Keratitis
Herpes keratitis is treated differently depending on its severity. Topical and oral antiviral medications are often used to treat mild infections. To remove the diseased cells, your ophthalmologist can scrape the affected area of the cornea gently. A corneal transplant may be necessary if there is serious scarring and vision loss.
It is essential to speak with an ophthalmologist before starting any treatment, as some drugs or eye drops can aggravate the infection.
Herpes has no complete cure. Once the virus has entered the body, it cannot be removed. If you do get herpes keratitis, there are several things you can do to help avoid recurrences:
● Stop touching your eyes if you have an active cold sore or blister.
● Steroids can make the herpes virus more active in the body. If you are using steroid eye drops, make sure you are not taking an antiviral medication.
● If you keep getting infections from your contact lenses, you should stop using them.
● If ocular herpes signs return, see an ophthalmologist right away.