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What is herpes simplex?
Herpes Simplex is a virus that infects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves of ourbodies. There are two major types of herpes simplex virus (HSV). Type I is the most common and is responsible for herpes simplex eye disease and the familiar “cold sore” or “fever blister.” Type II is responsible for sexually transmitted herpes and rarely causes infection above the waist.

What is herpes simplex eye disease?
The most common herpes simplex eye disease caused by HSV type I is a recurrent eye infection of the cornea, the clear front window of the eye, which can potentially threaten sight. The infection varies in duration, severity, and response of treatment, depending in part on which of several different strains of HSV type I caused the original infection. It can be considered a “cold sore” or “fever blister” of the eye.


For most people, this will be the only episode. Unfortunately, one out of four people who have a corneal infection are likely to have a recurrence within two years.

What are the symptoms of herpes eye disease?

The disease usually begins on the surface of the cornea. The eye turns red, is uncomfortable or painful, and sensitive to light. The vision can be blurred, and the eyes can be watering as well.   

The process may go deeper into the cornea and cause permanent scarring or inflammation inside the eye if not treated soon enough. Chronic ulcers, which are sometimes very difficult to heal, may also develop on the cornea. Herpes simplex eye disease usually occurs in only one eye and rarely spreads to the other eye.

What causes herpes eye disease? 

After the original infection, the virus goes into a quiet or dormant period, living in nerve cells that supply the skin or eye. Occasionally, the virus reactivates and causes a recurrent “cold sore” or “fever blister.” This can happen in times of stress, sun or UV exposure (such as tanning beds), fever, trauma to the body (such as injury or surgery), menstruation, or after taking certain medications. 

Who develops herpes eye disease?

An original infection with herpes simplex type I occurs in 90% of the population, usually during childhood or adolescence. The infection, sometimes only a mild sore mouth or throat, comes from close personal contact with an infected person and usually passes without notice.

Spreading herpes eye disease to another person is unlikely. In people with poor immunity, the herpes simplex virus may infect other parts of the eye or body, such as the retina or brain, but this occurs infrequently.

How is herpes eye disease diagnosed?

Without treatment, herpes eye disease can develop into a serious condition that may harm your vision. Also, many eye diseases produce a red eye that is not herpes eye disease. Therefore, it is important to visit an eye care specialist to have it diagnosed and treated quickly.

How is herpes simplex eye disease treated?
Treatment depends on the extent of the disease. Antiviral medications are commonly used and may need to be applied as frequently as one drop per hour. At times it may be necessary to scrape the surface of the cornea, to patch the eye, or to use a variety of medications. In cases of severe scarring and vision loss, a corneal transplant may be required.

It is very important to consult with our optometrists before beginning any treatment since some medications may actually make the disease worse.

What is the prognosis for herpes eye disease? 

If diagnosed early enough and you are compliant with treatment, the prognosis is pretty good. Be sure to follow all of our optometrist's instructions and come back to the clinic when it is recommended. 

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