Eye Health Central

Eye shingles Explained

What are Eye Shingles?

Eye shingles or ocular shingles, medically known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus, is a potentially serious condition that affects your eye and the surrounding skin. This condition is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus responsible for chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your body, and it can reactivate later in life, as shingles. When this reactivation occurs in or around the eye, you have eye shingles.


Eye Singles or Ocular shingles


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Eye Shingles

The symptoms of eye shingles can be quite wide-ranging but normally they include

  • Blisters around your upper eyelid and forehead on one side or on the top of your nose
  • Burning, throbbing, or itching around the eye
  • Red patches or a rash around one eye
  • Extreme skin sensitivity to the touch
  • Red eye, tearing, or irritation
  • Blurred vision or even temporary blindness

It's crucial to recognise that eye shingles are not just a skin condition; they can have massive effects on your eye health and vision if not treated promptly! 


Is Eye Shingles Serious

One of the most important aspects of eye shingles that should be stressed is the potential for you to develop complications in your eye. 

The virus can cause inflammation in several parts of your eye, including the cornea, the retina, and the optic nerve. This inflammation can lead to developing conditions like keratitis, uveitis, and optic neuritis. Each of these conditions can be quite serious! Keratitis affects your cornea and can lead to corneal scarring or vision loss. Uveitis, which is the inflammation of the middle layer of your eye, can cause glaucoma and cataracts; and optic neuritis can lead to severe pain and even loss of your vision.

The risk factors for getting eye shingles include aging (the risk increases after 50), a weakened immune system, and having had chickenpox in the past. It's important to note that stress or illness can trigger the reactivation of the virus. So leading a healthy lifestyle and managing stress can be beneficial in reducing the risk, as with many other health issues.

Long-term complications of eye shingles can include post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition where severe pain carries on for a long period of time after the rash has cleared. In some cases, you could have vision loss or chronic problems in your eye, so the need for early and effective treatment is extremely vital. 


How do I know if I have Eye Shingles

If you think  you might have eye shingles, you should make an appointment with your family doctor. Diagnosis eye shingles involves a physical examination and a review of your symptoms. Your doctor may also take a sample from the rash to test for the varicella-zoster virus. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical in minimising any complications. 


What is the Treatment for Eye Shingles

The treatment normally includes antiviral medications, which will help reduce the severity and length of time the virus is present in your body. Pain management is also an essential part of your treatment, as the condition can be painful!


What to do if you have Eye Shingles

On top of medical treatment, if you have eye shingles you can take several steps to manage your symptoms and prevent spreading the virus:

  • Make sure you keep the rash clean and covered 
  • Avoid touching or scratching the rash
  • Wash your hands often 

It's really important you avoid contact with people who are at high risk, such as pregnant women, newborns, and people with a weakened immune system, until the rash has completely healed.


Can you Prevent Eye Shingles

Preventing eye shingles is possible through vaccination. The shingles vaccine is recommended for adults over the age of 50 (a whole decade sooner than earlier recommendations from federal health officials) and can significantly reduce your risk of developing shingles and any of its associated complications.

Eye shingles is a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. Being aware of the symptoms and risks associated with this condition, together with effective management and treatment is crucial in preserving your eye health, and preventing long-term complications. 

Remember, if you experience any symptoms of eye shingles, seek medical advice immediately! Early intervention is key to a better outcome (and a happier, healthier you)!


Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 24 Nov 2023, Last modified: 20 May 2024