Ophthalmic herpes zoster presents around the eye with redness and discoloration.
Spotting Shingles in the Eye: Pictures, Care, Outlook, and More
This article discusses shingles in the eye, its symptoms, causes, and complications. It also explains the treatment and prevention of the infection.
Shingles can occur if a person has previously had a chickenpox infection. The virus, called varicella-zoster, stays dormant in the nerves. However, it can reactivate in some people, causing shingles.
The now active virus can start to replicate again. It will shed viral particles that travel along the nerves.
Shingles can affect the eye area when the virus impacts a nerve around the eyes.
This type of shingles does not necessarily always affect the eye. However, ocular symptoms occur in around 50% of herpes zoster ophthalmicus cases.
Shingles in the eye may cause vision problems, eye pain, and other complications.
Shingles in the eye often affects just one eye or one side of the face.
The lesions may appear on:
- the eyelid or periocular skin, the skin around the eye
- the retina, the thin layer at the back of the eyeball
- the cornea, the transparent, front-facing part of your eye
- eye pain or aching, either in or around the eye, especially when focusing
- swelling in or around the eye
- itching, irritation, or burning sensations
- sensitivity to light
- blurred, clouded, or decreased vision
- floaters, small shapes moving across your vision
- worsening of peripheral and central vision, vision in dark conditions, and color vision
- tears or discharge from the eye, which may cause crusting of the eyelids or lashes
- difficulty opening the eyelid due to pain or irritation
- the sensation that something is in your eye
- discomfort or difficulty using contact lenses
Seek emergency medical treatment for eye symptoms
Shingles in the eye can cause permanent damage, vision loss, and other complications. Therefore, it is essential to receive medical treatment as soon as possible to avoid any further effects on health.
Seek emergency treatment or call 911 for any eye-related symptoms.
Here are some photos of what shingles can look like when it affects the eye and eye area.
Shingles in the eye
Shingles in the eye
Shingles around the eye can present with eye redness, swelling and blisters.
Burntfingers, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Shingles in the eye
Classic shingles rash around the eyes, forehead and nose.
imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Shingles in the eye can also accompany other symptoms that affect other areas of the body.
Shingles in the eye may also cause a rash around the eye area. This rash can affect the eyelids, brow, nose, side of the face, cheek, or forehead.
Additional symptoms of shingles include:
The Hutchinson sign indicates that shingles is affecting the nasociliary nerve, a sensory nerve to the eye. The sign appears as a rash or blistering around the tip of the nose. Even if the eye does not appear impacted, eye doctors know to expect additional symptoms if they observe the Hutchinson sign.
Contact a doctor immediately for any eye-related symptoms that accompany other signs of shingles.
Is shingles in the eye an emergency?
Shingles, and shingles in the eye, can be serious conditions. Both conditions can require emergency assistance.
Shingles is especially serious in the following groups of people:
- pregnant people
- infants less than 1 month old
- people with a weakened immune system
Additionally, shingles in the eye can result in vision impairment or loss. The risk of vision impairment increases without prompt treatment.
Seek immediate medical help for any symptoms with shingles, vision problems, or eye lesions. An early diagnosis increases the chance of successful treatment.
To diagnose shingles in the eye, your doctor will first conduct a physical exam. They will also ask about your medical history and symptoms.
In some cases, your doctor can diagnose the condition based on symptoms alone.
However, further tests may be necessary in cases where the rash is not as distinctive. For shingles in the eye, a diagnosis may involve swabbing the eye or taking a fluid sample from it.
Treatments for shingles in the eye will aim to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications.
Doctors may prescribe antiviral medication to address the viral infection. These can include acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir, and foscarnet.
Your specific treatment may depend on individual factors, such as whether you have a compromised immune system.
Other treatments are available on a case-by-case basis. If necessary, doctors may recommend additional treatments, such as:
- medications, including antibiotics or corticosteroids
- antidepressants for nerve pain
- eye surgery or debridement
Some over-the-counter and at-home treatments may also help improve symptoms of shingles.
These can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. A cool compress may also help provide relief.
If you have a rash or blisters, keep the affected area clean and avoid unnecessary touching to reduce the risk of infection.
According to the National Institute on Aging, shingles generally takes 3–5 weeks to clear.
However, recovery may leave a few minor scars behind. Additionally, untreated shingles in the eye could cause lasting damage. Complications that result from this condition could also have a lasting impact.
Contact your doctor promptly for any new symptoms or if your symptoms do not improve with treatment.
In severe cases, or with ineffective treatment, shingles in the eye can have serious health implications, such as:
- postherpetic neuralgia
- permanent vision loss
- prolonged eye scarring
- corneal damage
- nerve damage
- further infection
In rare cases, shingles and shingles in the eye can also cause damage to the brain and spinal cord. This damage increases the risk for further complications, such as stroke, meningitis, and death. Prompt, aggressive treatment for these complications is essential to preserve a healthy central nervous system.
To lower your risk of complications, consider:
- seeking early treatment
- following your treatment plan
- monitoring your symptoms and informing your doctor of any changes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking the shingles vaccine if you have previously had chickenpox.
You can also receive a chickenpox vaccine if you have never had chickenpox.
The vaccine can lower your risk of infection by around 90% in the first 7 years. It can also help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms if you do develop shingles.
Contact your doctor regarding vaccination to find out how to get it and to see if it could help you.
The outlook for those with shingles in the eye can vary depending on individual factors. These factors include the person’s previous condition, how quick and effective treatment is, and the severity of the infection.
For most people with no underlying immune conditions who receive early treatment, the outlook is positive.
This outlook includes improvement of symptoms within 4 weeks and successful management with outpatient treatment.
Other cases may need further treatment, more time to resolve, or may result in complications.
Shingles is a viral infection that causes painful skin blisters. It can affect many different parts of the body, including the eyes.
Shingles in the eye can present as pain, redness, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision. Shingles may cause other symptoms and irritation.
To treat the infection, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication. Early treatment is essential, as complications of shingles in the eye can include vision loss. Some complications can be life threatening.
Consult your doctor or ophthalmologist for evaluation and treatment if you have symptoms of shingles anywhere around the eye.