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Herpes of the Eye

Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is Herpes of the Eye?

This form of herpes will most commonly affect the cornea, or the clear outer layer, of your eye. It is also known as ocular herpes, eye herpes, or herpes simplex eye infection.

Each year it affects approximately twenty-five million people. Of that twenty-five million people, approximately fifty thousand will have either a flare-up or infection each year.

It can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, gender, or race. In the United States it is one of the most common infectious reasons for corneal blindness.


There are three types of herpes of the eye, which are:


This type is the most common and can spread to the middle layers of your cornea. This can also cause scarring that is permanent or loss of vision. It can also cause blindness occasionally.


This form is when the ciliary and iris of your eye has an inflammation. With type a person can develop blurred vision, redness, pain, and sensitivity to the light which can be severe.

Herpes retinitis

This type is when the infection happens inside the lining of the back of your eye or in the retina.

Herpes of the Eye Symptoms

The symptoms of herpes of the eye may happen every once in awhile or they could happen on a daily basis and at times may be severe. Some of the common symptoms can include:

  • Vision that is blurred.
  • Pain in the eye.
  • Sensitivity to light that may increase.
  • Conjunctivitis which is inflammation of the surface of the eye.
  • Lethargy or malaise.
  • Painful bumps on the eye or the eyelid.
  • Eyes that are red and sore, also known as bloodshot eyes.
  • Inflammation of the structure of the eye known as iritis and uvetis.
  • Irritation of the eyes.
  • Water that is discharged through the eye.
  • Cornea that is cloudy
  • Eyelid that is swollen.
  • Scratchiness in the eye.


Herpes of the eye is a viral infection that is usually caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1. It is called herpes simplex keratitis. This type of herpes virus is also the common cause for a person to develop blisters their face and cold sores.

It is not totally understood what the cause is for HSV type 1 to develop but it thought to be that many people are exposed in early life to this type of virus with or without having any symptoms of this virus. The virus then remains dormant for long periods of time.

It is also not known what causes the outbreak of this herpes virus but if you have an immune system that is weakened you are more susceptible to having outbreaks. When you have herpes of the eye you are more at risk for having recurrent infections.

The time between infections reoccurring can anywhere between a few days to many years. Some of the reasons that the herpes simplex virus type 1 can be reactivated may include mental stress, exposure to the sun, or sickness.

This is the type of virus that can pass from one person to another through some type of contact so if a person has a cold sore and you come in contact with it through kissing them or touching the cold sore you could become infected with HSV.

Herpes of the eye can also be caused by a person who has an outbreak of this herpes simplex virus type 1 if they touch their eyes during the outbreak.

Always make sure that you wash your hand thoroughly if you come in contact with this virus. Usually the virus will remain inactive and not cause a person any health problems.

Another virus that could cause herpes of the eye is the virus that causes shingles and chickenpox, which is a disease of your nervous system, is called varicella-zoster virus. If this particular virus is the cause of herpes of the eye it is referred to as herpes zoster ophthalmicus.


To ensure that you get the proper treatment you should see an eye doctor or ophthalmologist. How it is treated depends on where in the eye the infection is located. All cases of herpes of the eye should be treated case by case because some of the treatments could just aggravate the outbreak.

There is no known cure for herpes of the eye and treatment is used to help control the outbreak you have. The physician may prescribe an antiviral eye drop or topical ointments to help reduce any scarring or damage to your eye.

They may also prescribe corticosteroid eye drops or an oral antiviral medication. If it is necessary the physician may scrape or brush the affected areas of your cornea with a cotton swab to remove manually the affected cells.

Although it is not curable you should always seek medical attention because if not treated it could result in corneal scarring that is severe and in some cases you may have to have a corneal transplant to get back your normal vision.

Proper treatment will also help make the probability of herpes of the eyes reoccurring less frequent. In the sun you should always wear sunglasses.

Herpes of the Eye Pictures

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