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What is herpes simplex eye disease?

Once present in the eye, herpes simplex typically infects the eyelids, conjunctiva (the thin, filmy mucous membrane that covers the inside of your eyelids and the white part of your eye), and cornea (the clear, front window of the eye). The disease usually begins with an infection on the surface of the cornea. Your eye will turn red and become sore and sensitive to light. After time, the infection may spread deeper into the cornea and cause inflammation inside the eye or possibly permanent scarring of the cornea. Chronic ulcers, which are sometimes very difficult to heal, may also develop on the cornea.

Signs and symptoms of the infection include:

  • Red eye
  • Eye pain or soreness
  • Tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • Irritation
  • Blurred vision

The form of treatment will depend on the severity of the infection. Mild infection is typically treated with topical and sometimes oral antiviral medication. Your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) may gently scrape the affected area of the cornea to remove the diseased cells. In cases of severe scarring and vision loss, a corneal transplant may be required.

It is very important to consult an ophthalmologist before beginning any treatment since some medications or eyedrops may actually make the infection worse.

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) eye infections are common, and are treated with prescription antiviral eye drops or with oral antiviral medications. Glucocorticoid eye drops should not be used in active HSV eye infections as they can promote damage to your eye. Other types of HSV eye disease are actually an immune response to a previous infection and should be treated with both antiviral medications and glucocorticoid eye drops. You should see your doctor to determine which type of eye disease you have.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.