Eye Herpes – Herpes Symptoms, Causes, Types, Treatments

Herpes is an infection that has become more common in recent years, with eye and genital herpes being one of the most prevalent. Herpes infection is caused by HSV 1 (Herpes simplex virus-1) and HSV 2 (Herpes simplex virus -2). The HSV-1 virus causes oral herpes, also known as cold sore or fever blisters, while HSV-2 causes genital herpes.

Ocular herpes

Eye herpes, also known as ocular herpes, is a viral infection of the eye that usually manifests as blisters on the skin and surrounding tissues of the eyes.

This disease is most contagious in its primary stage, affecting the eyelids, cornea, and mucous membrane protecting the eyeball. In the United States, the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that 50,000 new cases occur each year, which leads to an increased rate of contagious blindness.

Eye herpes is typically transmitted from one person to another through contact with either infected saliva or skin lesions.

It can also be transmitted during childbirth if the mother has an active lesion at the time of delivery.


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Close-up of a lesion (cold sore) at the corner of the eye in a 20 year old male patient infected with the Herpes simplex virus. Herpes simplex is a common viral infection that leads to painful skin blisters.

Symptoms of eye herpes

Common symptoms of eye herpes are pain, itching, or inflammation around one or both eyes, often accompanied by redness, light sensitivity, and excessive eye tearing.

What is the Cause of Eye Herpes?

Eye herpes is caused by the Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 or HSV-2) and affects approximately 1.6 million people worldwide, making it the common cause of infectious blindness. The virus that causes the herpes simplex virus enters the body from a site of infection and then travels through nerve fibers to the eye, causing noticeable symptoms in infected people starting from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus. Eye herpes is relatively harmless; however, if untreated, you may develop chronic blindness (depending on severity).

What are the Symptoms of Eye Herpes?

Symptoms of eye herpes can be mistaken for other eye infections such as pink eye. As a result, it’s best to ask your doctor if you’re likely affected by another medical condition rather than with the viral illness itself.

Some common symptoms of eye herpes include:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Red-eye
  • Painful blisters around eye tissues
  • Mucous discharge
  • Tearing Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Light burning sensations which mimic itching

Eye herpes can affect both eyes; however, this occurrence is less common. If you experience the symptoms discussed, seek immediate medical advice to avoid complications.

What are the Types of Eye Herpes?

Common types of eye herpes include:


Keratitis infection results in the inflammation of the cornea. The National Eye Institute of America reported that this medical condition could lead to permanent scarring or gradual vision loss, becoming permanent blindness if not properly managed.

Stromal keratitis

Stromal keratitis is a common form of ocular herpes that results in severe degeneration of the cornea layers. This form of eye herpes can lead to vision loss, scarring, and in extreme cases, blindness.


Iridocyclitis is a severe form of eye herpes that affects the retina and internal lining of the eye. This infection causes inflammation of the iris, increasing sensitivity to light, burning sensations, and blurred vision.

How to Diagnose Eye Herpes

Visit an ophthalmologist for medical attention if you experience any symptoms of eye herpes.

Your doctor can easily diagnose eye herpes by physical examination of the sores. However, severe cases will require a slit lamp microscope to diagnose eye herpes in specific tissues of the eyes.

Culture samples can be extracted from blistered areas to test for the presence of HSV.

How Do You Reduce the Risk of Eye Herpes?

While there are no failsafe preventive measures against eye herpes, strictly adhering to specific standards can help minimize the risk of infection. A preventative measure to reduce risks includes:

  • always keep your hands and eyes clean
  • avoid touching your eyes if you have any herpes outbreak
  • seek immediate medical help if you notice any symptoms of herpes

Early diagnosis and treatment help improve symptoms of eye herpes, as well as prevent severe eye damages.

How Do You Treat Eye Herpes?

A person with eye herpes is susceptible to future outbreaks, so there is no long-lasting cure for the condition.

However, your doctor can recommend antiviral medications such as eye drops, steroids, and surgical procedures such as debridement to remove dead layers of the virus.

In severe cases of ocular herpes, surgery may be necessary.