- Shingles in the eye, aka herpes zoster ophthalmicus, occurs in approx. 10% to 20% of all shingles cases.
- It can result in complications such as corneal damage and blindness, so it is important to see your doctor right away.
- You can prevent shingles in the eye by getting the Shingrix vaccine.
- This article was medically revised by Benjamin Bert, MD, an ophthalmologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
- Visit the Insiders Health Reference Library for more advice.
Shingles is a painful rash caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is a very common condition as one in three people develops it throughout their lifetime, most often after the age of 50. Although shingles rashes most often appear on the upper body, it is possible for it to affect your eyes as well.
Eye table stone has its own name: herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO). Recent studies from the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center found that the incidence of HZO tripled between 2004 and 201
Here is what you need to know about symptoms of shingles in the eye, as well as complications and treatment.
Symptoms of shingles in the eye
Shingles typically affects only one side of the body. This is because the varicella-zoster virus lays dormant in your body in nerve cells after you get chickenpox. When the virus is reactivated, it affects a nerve as it moves downward, causing shingles to appear on the side of the affected nerve. So if you get it on your face, it will only affect either the right or left side.
Shingles on your face will not always affect your eyes, but there is certainly a possibility that it can. About 10-20% of shingles cases appear on or around the eye. If you have shingles in your eyes, says Randall McLaughlin, OD, associate professor of ophthalmology at Ohio State University College of Medicine, a painful rash and blisters may appear on:
- The tip of your nose
You should be especially concerned if the rash is on the tip of the nose, as McLaughlin says this is typically a sign that the eye is affected. In addition, you may notice changes in your normal vision, such as experiencing blurred vision.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, you may also experience other shingles symptoms that may appear even before the rash surfaces, such as:
- Feeling generally uncomfortable
- Burning sensations
- Tingling sensations
- Sensitivity to light
If you suspect you have singles in your eye, contact your doctor as soon as possible to prevent possible permanent damage.
Complications of shingles in the eye
While it is possible to have complications from a regular shingles infection, your vision is at stake if your eye is involved. Dangerous complications of shingles can include:
- Eye damage such as scarring of the cornea, McLaughlin says
- Blindness in severe cases
When you have shingles in your eyes, the corneal nerves become inflamed, and as this heals, it can lead to scars, McLaughlin says. This can result in impaired visual acuity and cannot be corrected with glasses. In some cases, a corneal transplant may be necessary. Blindness, a complete loss of vision, is more of a rare complication. That is why it is so important to start treatment early to avoid these possible permanent problems.
McLaughlin says that complications vary individually and that not everyone experiences them. The sooner you seek medical attention and begin treatment, the less likely you will have complications.
One complication that can occur as a result of any shingles infection is postherpetic neuralgia, which can leave you with prolonged pain, numbness and itching that remains for three months or longer after the infection disappears. Again, early treatment will reduce your risk of this complication as well.
The best treatment is defense, so the shingles infection never happens in the first place. McLaughlin says the shingles vaccine can significantly reduce your risk of getting shingles. He highly recommends it for people over 50 years of age. According to the CDC, the Shingrix vaccine is 97% effective in preventing shingles in people aged 50 to 69 years and 91% effective in people 70 years and older.
You only need two doses of the Shingrix vaccine, and then you’m ready. The CDC recommends it to people over the age of 50, even if they have had shingles in the past, if they have had the older (and less effective) shingles vaccine, Zostavax, or if they are not sure if they had chickenpox when they were younger or not. .
The vaccine has been determined to be safe. Mild side effects such as injection site pain, headache and fatigue may occur for two to three days.
Treatment of shingles in the eye
But if you end up with shingles, McLaughlin says the most effective treatment is antiviral medication.
The sooner you can start it, the better. Antiviral drugs are most effective when started within 72 hours. These drugs reduce the duration and severity of your infection as well as reduce your risk of getting these complications of eye damage, blindness and postherpetic neuralgia.
Common antiviral drugs prescribed for shingles are:
In addition, McLaughlin says, especially for shingles on the eye, that steroid eye drops can be prescribed to fight inflammation of the cornea. Regardless of the treatment plan, you will need to be closely monitored by your ophthalmologist to ensure that you are on the right path to feeling better and that you will recover from the infection without lasting complications.