What is Ocular Herpes?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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Also known as eye herpes, ocular herpes is a viral infection that causes scarring and inflammation to the cornea. While close proximity is required to transmit this form of herpes to another individual, sexual contact is not necessary. There are several different forms of this eye herpes, each of them requiring something slightly different in terms of ocular herpes treatment.

The cause of ocular herpes simplex is the infection of the eye by the herpes simplex virus. It is possible to contract this virus through close contact with someone who is currently dealing with an outbreak of herpes. Some people also infect themselves by touching the site of the herpes outbreak on a lip or elsewhere, then rubbing the eye without thinking.

Symptoms associated with the ocular herpes virus are very obvious and usually somewhat painful. There is usually some swelling around the eye itself, an unusual amount of tear production, and a sense that there is something irritating the eye that will not flush out using eyewash. Ocular herpes symptoms also include the development of unusual sensitivity to light, redness in the eye, and possibly the development of a discharge that is slightly thicker than tears. Fortunately, the outward signs of eye herpes make it possible for a doctor to diagnose the ailment and initiate treatment quickly.


When it comes to treating ocular herpes, some people find that the immune system overcomes and suppresses the viral infection. However, this does not mean the individual is cured. The virus is still present, but in a dormant state. There is always the chance of another outbreak, especially if the individual is run down and the immune system is not working at peak efficiency.

When caught in the early stages, antiviral eye drops and ointments can be used to alleviate the symptoms and facilitate recovery. Steroid drops are used in some cases, but are not always favored by physicians, since the steroids can decrease the ability of the immune system to suppress the virus. In more advanced cases, the physician may use a process known as debridement; essentially, this involves scraping the infected cells of the cornea, then placing a patch or soft lens over the cornea to allow it to heal.

In more severe situations, ocular herpes can damage the cornea. When this is the case, surgery is the only option. If the scarring cannot be surgically removed, it may be necessary to undergo a corneal implant in order to restore sight. Physicians tend to try other means before taking this serious step, if there is any indication that the cornea can be saved and vision restored without the use of surgery.


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