Updated June 6, 2023
If you've ever had shingles, you know they're no picnic. But did you know that shingles can also affect your eyes? It's true; Shingles in the eye is a serious condition. It can affect the cornea, the clear outer layer at the front of the eye. This can result in sensitivity to light, blurry vision or blindness. It can also cause pain, swelling, and redness.
But, there are ways to manage the symptoms and ease the discomfort. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to reduce swelling, itching, and other symptoms. They may also recommend topical medications or ointments to reduce inflammation and irritation. In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery as a treatment option.
Read on to learn more about eye shingles, also known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus. We'll discuss treatments, care instructions, and symptoms of shingles in the eye. That way, you can...keep an eye out for it. (I know, the punning is getting worse.)
What Is the Shingles Virus?
Often referred to as shingles, herpes zoster is a viral infection of the skin. It's caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. If you recovered from chickenpox as a child, your body has created immunity against it. This makes it unlikely to get chickenpox at a later time, unlike someone who has never had chickenpox.
As a result of a strong immune system, the virus will become dormant in the body. However, the inactive virus has not been eliminated completely. It will remain in your body for the rest of your life.
Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus
When the herpes zoster virus affects the eyes, it is called herpes zoster ophthalmicus. It occurs when the virus reactivates and causes a painful skin rash around your eye and eyelid. Usually, the rash develops on one side of your face or one side of your forehead. It will cause swelling and severe pain. It can also cause serious eye complications. This includes glaucoma, and can even lead to vision loss or total blindness.
Shingles of the eye start with pain and tingling in the affected area, followed by blisters on your skin. Most people who develop herpes zoster ophthalmicus will develop a rash. This begins as small, red bumps that become blisters. The blisters will eventually burst and form scabs. The scabs will eventually fall off, leaving scars.
What Causes Shingles of the Eye?
As mentioned earlier, the shingles virus is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus stays dormant in your body after you've had chickenpox. However, it can reactivate years later and cause shingles. Most commonly, shingles appears as a band of blisters on one side of your body, but can occur anywhere on your body. The rash sometimes occurs around one eye or on your upper eyelid. The risk of getting herpes zoster ophthalmicus is lower than shingles. But, it's more severe because damage to the eye can cause permanent vision loss.
Symptoms of Shingles in the Eyes
- Blisters on one side of the body, often around the eye
Painful rash and redness
Sensitivity to light
Don't delay seeking medical attention if you experience these symptoms. Shingles can cause severe complications if not treated immediately. Treatment for shingles in the eye typically includes antiviral medication and pain relief. Surgery may be required to preserve vision in some instances. It's important to see an ophthalmologist or primary care doctor if you suspect shingles symptoms. This is especially true for people with weakened immune systems.
What Are the Risk Factors of Herpes Zoster Virus in the Eye?
Postherpetic neuralgia is a serious condition caused by the varicella zoster virus. This is a condition where the virus causes damage to the nerves. This results in severe pain that can last for months or even years.
Various factors that may increase your chance of developing the disease. These include:
Weakened immune system:
Getting shingles is more likely if you have a weakened immune system.
This can be due to many reasons. These include undergoing cancer treatment, taking immunosuppressive medications or having an autoimmune disease.
People who are age 50 years and older are more likely to develop shingles. The risk increases with age. The severity of the infection can be more pronounced in older individuals.
Previous chickenpox infection:
Chickenpox remains dormant in the body. It can become active again under certain conditions. People who have had chickenpox before are at risk of getting shingles later in life.
The Shingles Vaccine
Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent getting the shingles virus. A shingles vaccine called Shingrix is recommended for adults 50 years and older. It has reduced the risk of developing shingles and its complications. This is including herpes zoster ophthalmicus. Ask your doctor if you can take the Shingrix vaccine to prevent herpes zoster.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a robust immune system can also prevent shingles. This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management.
There is no cure for shingles. But there are treatments that can help ease the symptoms and make the rash go away faster. It's important to consult with a doctor. The sooner that a doctor can diagnose shingles, the faster they can treat the symptoms.
If you have shingles in the eye, follow the instructions from your eye doctor. This is to ensure a smooth recovery and minimize the risk of complications. Some general care tips include:
Take prescribed medications:
Follow your doctor's advice and take all prescribed medications as directed. This may include antiviral drugs to help reduce the severity of the infection. They may also have prescribed pain relievers to manage discomfort.
Keep the affected area clean:
Gently clean the rash and blisters with mild soap and water to prevent infection. Inflammation or blisters should not be touched. This is because the virus can spread to other parts of your body.
Avoid close contact with anyone:
If the blisters haven't scabbed over, you should avoid close contact with anyone. This is especially true of those who haven't had chickenpox. This also goes for anyone who is pregnant, or has a weakened immune system; as they are at higher risk.
Wear protective eyewear:
If the shingles rash is close to your eye, protect your face and eyes from sunlight, dust, and other irritants. One of the best ways to do this is by wearing sunglasses or protective eyewear.
Rest and stay hydrated:
Get plenty of rest and drink fluids to help your body heal and recover.
For immediate relief from the itching caused by shingles, Dermeleve® is an excellent option. A single application of Dermeleve® starts working immediately. It's able to provide complete itch relief in as little as five minute and last up to five hours. Unlike other anti-itch creams, it is made with natural ingredients and no corticosteroids. This makes Dermeleve® safe for long term continued use. You can use it as often and as frequently as you need relief. This is not the case with corticosteroids. They can cause some very bad long-term side effects.
If your symptoms worsen or you have concerns, consult your doctor. This is the best way for your condition to be treated quickly and efficiently.
Shingles of the eye is a serious condition that can be a real pain, both literally and figuratively. Thankfully, there are treatments available that can help lessen the symptoms. Dermeleve® provides significant itch relief. This works well for those suffering from shingles of the face and eyes. It works equally well on shingles on other areas of the body. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, visit the Dermeleve® site to learn more.
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