Shingles of the Eye and Lasting Vision Impairment

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that occurs due to the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This virus is responsible for causing chickenpox during childhood. It remains dormant in the body until it reactivates, causing shingles. Shingles usually results in a painful rash, but it can also affect the eyes, leading to a condition called shingles of the eye.

Shingles of the eye, also known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus, is a severe form of shingles that affects the eye and can lead to lasting vision impairment. The virus can cause inflammation, scarring, and damage to different parts of the eye, including the cornea and retina.

Raising awareness of shingles of the eye is crucial as the infection can lead to long-term vision problems if left untreated. This article aims to provide information on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options available for shingles of the eye. Additionally, we will discuss natural remedies and lifestyle changes that can help prevent shingles of the eye and reduce the risk of complications.

Understanding Shingles of the Eye

Shingles of the eye is a viral infection that affects the eye and is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. When someone has chickenpox, the virus stays in their system, and later in life, it can reactivate and cause shingles. Shingles of the eye, also known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus, occurs when the virus reactivates in the nerves that supply the eye and its surroundings.

It's crucial to understand how the virus spreads and infects the eye. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus occurs when the virus travels along the ophthalmic nerve, which is located in the forehead. The virus eventually reaches the eye and causes inflammation of the cornea, retina, and other parts of the eye.

The effects of shingles on the eye can range from mild to severe, depending on how quickly the infection is diagnosed and treated. Mild symptoms may include irritation, redness, and tearing of the eye, while severe symptoms may include corneal ulcers, glaucoma, and even blindness in some cases.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent vision loss and other complications. If you suspect you have shingles of the eye, it's imperative to seek medical attention immediately to receive antiviral drug therapy. Treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of the eye.

Symptoms of Shingles of the Eye

Shingles of the eye, also known as ophthalmic shingles, is a viral infection that can cause long-lasting vision impairment. The symptoms of shingles of the eye may be different from that of regular shingles because it affects the nerves and tissue around the eye. The symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the face and mostly affect people over the age of 50, and those with a weakened immune system due to stress, injury, or medication. Some of the common symptoms of shingles of the eye include:

- Eye pain: Pain around the eye is one of the most common symptoms, which can be moderate to severe.
- Sensitivity to light: Shingles of the eye can cause hypersensitivity to light. This can make it difficult to go outside without experiencing excessive discomfort.
- Eye redness: Redness around the eye is common and may also be accompanied by swelling or itching.
- Blurry vision: Shingles of the eye can cause blurry vision, resulting in difficulty reading, watching TV, or driving.
- Headache: Some individuals with shingles of the eye experience headaches, though not everyone will have this symptom.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce these symptoms and prevent long-term damage to vision. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is essential to seek medical attention from a doctor that specializes in eye health. The next section will discuss how shingles of the eye is diagnosed and treated.

Diagnosis and Medical Treatment

Shingles of the eye can cause lasting vision impairment and requires prompt diagnosis and treatment. If a patient experiences eye pain, redness, blurring of vision, or sensitivity to light, they should consult a doctor to determine if their symptoms are related to shingles.

To diagnose shingles of the eye, doctors examine the patient's eye thoroughly and swab any fluid that might be present for lab testing. An ophthalmologist may need to perform additional tests, such as checking for visual acuity and using a slit lamp to examine the eye and look for any damage.

Once diagnosed, medical treatments are available to treat shingles of the eye. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are among the most commonly prescribed medications to treat shingles of the eye. These drugs work by reducing the replication of the virus and limiting disease progression. It is essential to begin antiviral therapy as early as possible to reduce the risk of complications.

However, antiviral drugs can have side effects like nausea, headache, and diarrhea. In some rare cases, these drugs can cause severe liver or kidney damage, so it is vital to monitor the patient as they undergo treatment.

Suppose a patient experiences complications such as intraocular pressure, corneal complications, or uveitis. In that case, a doctor may recommend additional treatments relevant to the symptoms altogether.

Natural Remedies and Lifestyle Changes for Treating and Preventing Shingles of the Eye

When we contract shingles of the eye, the resulting discomfort and pain can be unbearable. However, in addition to traditional medical treatments, there are natural remedies that can also provide relief. These remedies can work to boost the immune system and help speed up the healing process.

Firstly, aloe vera has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that make it an effective natural remedy for treating shingles of the eye. When applied topically, aloe vera can help reduce the itchiness and pain associated with shingles while promoting faster healing.

Aside from natural remedies, what we eat can also play a significant role in preventing shingles of the eye. A healthy diet that includes nutritious foods can help boost our immunity and prevent infections. Foods such as leafy greens, berries, citrus fruits, and nuts are rich in vitamins and minerals that our body needs to strengthen the immune system.

It's essential to emphasize that a weakened immune system is one of the leading causes of shingles of the eye. Eating unhealthy foods, such as processed foods, can weaken our immune system and increase the risk of getting shingles. Therefore, sticking to a diet consisting of healthy and nutritious foods can significantly reduce the risk of shingles and other infections.

Prevention and Vaccines

Preventing shingles of the eye is important as it can lead to lasting vision impairment if left untreated. There are several ways to prevent shingles of the eye which includes:

- Avoid close contact with individuals who have shingles.
- Wash your hands regularly and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.
- Avoid touching your eyes with dirty hands.
- Get enough rest and exercise, which will improve your immune system's strength.

In addition to these measures, getting a shingles vaccine is another way to prevent shingles of the eye. The shingles vaccine contains a weakened version of the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV), which is similar to the virus that causes shingles. This can help train the immune system to recognize and fight off the virus in case of infection, reducing the risk and severity of a shingles outbreak.

However, the shingles vaccine should not be taken by individuals with a weakened immune system, those with a history of allergies to gelatin, or individuals who are pregnant or planning to conceive. Additionally, some people may experience mild to moderate side effects such as headache, joint pain, or redness and swelling around the injection site.

It is important to talk to your doctor to determine if the shingles vaccine is right for you. In conclusion, while there are various ways to prevent shingles of the eye, getting vaccinated provides long-term protection from future episodes. It will also reduce the severity of symptoms if you do happen to get shingles.


Shingles of the eye is a serious medical condition that can cause lasting damage to your vision. It's important to be aware of the symptoms and to seek prompt medical attention if you suspect you may have shingles of the eye.

In this article, we've discussed the symptoms of shingles of the eye, the available medical treatments and natural remedies, and the importance of lifestyle changes to prevent the condition from happening in the first place.

Remember that a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward preventing shingles of the eye. This includes healthy eating, getting plenty of rest, and exercising regularly. Additionally, getting vaccinated against shingles can help decrease your risk of contracting the condition.

Finally, if you experience any symptoms of shingles of the eye, such as eye pain, redness or sensitivity to light, seek medical attention promptly. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help prevent lasting vision impairment.

FAQs about Shingles of the Eye

What is shingles of the eye?

Shingles of the eye is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus that affects the eye and its surrounding tissues. It is also known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus.

How is shingles of the eye different from regular shingles?

Shingles of the eye is a specific type of shingles that affects the eye. It can cause vision loss, blindness, and other serious complications.

What are the symptoms of shingles of the eye?

Symptoms of shingles of the eye can include eye pain, redness, swelling, sensitivity to light, blurry vision, and rash on the forehead or nose. Prompt medical attention is needed if you experience any of these symptoms.

How is shingles of the eye treated?

Shingles of the eye is typically treated with oral antiviral drugs and sometimes corticosteroids. It is crucial to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent serious complications such as vision loss.

Can shingles of the eye be prevented?

Shingles of the eye can be prevented by getting vaccinated for shingles. Other preventative measures include maintaining a healthy immune system, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding close contact with individuals who have active shingles.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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