Everyone knows that the herpes virus can cause sores around your mouth, but it's less well known that the herpes virus can also infect your eyes. Here's what you need to know about this uncomfortable eye condition.
How does it spread?
Herpes simplex keratitis is caused by herpes simplex type 1. This is the same type of herpes that causes cold sores, and it's different from the type that causes genital herpes. It's spread by close contact such as kissing, touching, and sharing persona items like forks. If you have a cold sore, remember to wash your hands immediately after you touch it: if you touch or rub your eye after touching your cold sore, you could spread the virus to your eye.
Does it cause sores on your eyes?
Herpes simplex keratitis can cause sores to develop on your eyes or on your eyelids, similar to the ones that form around your mouth. This isn't the only symptom, however. Herpes simplex keratitis can cause a wide variety of symptoms:
- Feeling that a foreign object is in your eye
- Excessive tearing
- Sensitivity to light
- Red eyes
- Blisters on your eyelids
- Blurred vision
- Eye pain
If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to see your optometrist right away.
Can it cause blindness?
The sores that form on your eyes can be incredibly damaging, and may leave scars on the surface of your eye. If these scars form on your cornea, the clear lens on top of your pupil, they can cause partial or total vision loss. For this reason, this condition is a major cause of corneal blindness.
Can it be treated?
The herpes virus can't be cured, so you'll always have the virus in your body. This means that you could have another outbreak in your eye in the future. That doesn't mean that there are no treatments, though. Your optometrist can give you gels or drops to apply to your eye to ease your symptoms and speed up the healing process.
How common is herpes simplex keratitis?
There haven't been any Canadian studies done on the subject, so for now, researchers need to use data from the United States and extrapolate it to Canada. They estimate that the incidence rate in Canada is 23.3 out of every 100,000-person years, and the rate is still increasing.
Herpes simplex keratitis is a common problem, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore it. If you think you have this condition, see your optometrist right away.