Shingles, medically known as herpes zoster, can spread to the face or the eyes. When a shingles outbreak takes place in the eye, a patient is at great risk for long-term complications, such as vision loss. Aggressively treating shingles with an antiviral medication, such as Valtrex or acyclovir, is key to preventing these long-term effects.
This article provides a thorough overview of herpes zoster (shingles) outbreaks in the eye, as well as the most effective methods for treatment. Read ahead to learn more about preventing long-term complications of shingles outbreaks.
What is Herpes Zoster (Shingles)?
Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, causes painful, blistering rashes on the body. This disease results from the virus varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox, which lays dormant in the body after infection. The virus can be triggered — even years later — by stress, age, or a weakened immune system, which results in a shingles outbreak.
Shingles symptoms include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Low-grade fever
- Sensitivity to light
- Tingling or burning pain in one or more areas of the body
Shingles outbreaks typically occur on one side of the body. Rashes normally appear along nerve pathways. Outbreaks frequently appear on the trunk of the body, but can also appear in the following areas:
What is Different About Herpes Zoster in the Eyes?
A shingles outbreak in the eye is known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus. People who are immunocompromised (e.g., those undergoing chemotherapy) are at significantly higher risk of developing this condition. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus occurs in approximately 10 to 25 percent of all reported herpes zoster cases.
Shingles outbreaks in the eye are especially alarming because they can result in severe long-term effects for the patient. Long-term effects of these outbreaks include scarring on various parts of the eye, blurred vision, and permanent vision loss. Patients may also experience pink eye, swelling of the eye, and extreme pain along with these outbreaks.
Symptoms of herpes zoster ophthalmicus include:
- Blurred vision
- Burning or throbbing pain in the eye
- Eye irritation
- Sensitivity to light
- Teary or watery eyes
- Visible rash on or around the eye (e.g., on the eyelid)
To learn more about shingles in the eye, watch this video from the Mayo Clinic.
How Can Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus be Treated?
There is no cure for herpes, but fortunately, all forms of herpes can be treated with antiviral medications, such as Valtrex (valacyclovir) and acyclovir. Early and aggressive treatment is highly recommended for patients suffering from herpes zoster ophthalmicus. These medications work best when started within three days of the initial onset of symptoms.
Antiviral medications have been shown to shorten the duration and reduce the severity of outbreaks. This is especially important in cases of herpes zoster ophthalmicus due to the risk of long-term vision loss. A medical provider can help a patient to determine which antiviral medication is best for their care.
To learn more about the need for immediate medical attention for suspected shingles in the eyes, see this youtube video: