Herpes Viral Infections of the Eye

  • Medical Author:
    Patricia S. Bainter, MD

    Dr. Bainter is a board-certified ophthalmologist. She received her BA from Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and her MD from the University of Colorado in Denver, CO. She completed an internal medicine internship at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, CO, followed by an ophthalmology residency and a cornea and external disease fellowship, both at the University of Colorado. She became board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology in 1998 and recertified in 2008. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Bainter practices general ophthalmology including cataract surgery and management of corneal and anterior segment diseases. She has volunteered in eye clinics in the Dominican Republic and Bosnia. She currently practices at One to One Eye Care in San Diego, CA.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Herpes of the Eye Symptoms: Eye Pain

The eye is the organ of sight. Eye pain can be cause by conditions involving the eyeball (orbit) or be caused by conditions of structures around the eye.

The eye has a number of components. These components include but are not limited to the:

  • cornea,
  • iris,
  • pupil,
  • lens,
  • retina,
  • macula,
  • optic nerve,
  • choroid and
  • vitreous.

What are herpes viruses?

There are several members of the herpes virus family. They include herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2), herpes zoster (HZV, also known as varicella-zoster virus or VZV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and others.

What causes herpes eye infections?

Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) is the most common herpes virus to affect the eyes. This is the same virus that causes cold sores on the lips.

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV; herpes zoster), which causes chickenpox in childhood and shingles in adulthood, can also affect the eye. Cytomegalovirus causes eye disease in immunocompromised people, such as HIV-infected patients with low T cell counts.

Is ocular herpes contagious?

Herpes can be contagious. Live virus is found in the tears of people with active corneal herpes simplex and herpes zoster, as well as from skin vesicles in chickenpox and shingles rashes. Careful hand washing is important, particularly when coming into contact with unimmunized babies and children, as well as people with weakened immune systems.

How is ocular herpes transmitted?

In most cases, ocular herpes simplex is not directly transmitted from one eye to another. Instead, the virus is first acquired by direct contact but produces no initial signs or symptoms. The virus settles in the body's nervous system, where it remains in its latent, dormant state. Months or years later, the virus can reactivate and travel to the eye where it causes ocular herpes, or the lip, where it causes a cold sore.

In children, a small rash and pinkeye may be a sign of an initial direct infection of the eye by the herpes simplex virus.

Herpes zoster (varicella zoster) virus is most often acquired through the air during epidemics of chickenpox in childhood, after which the virus can sit dormant for decades before reactivating and producing shingles in the eye or elsewhere in the body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/27/2017

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