The Unexamined Life

Herpes Symptoms In The Eyes You Should Not Ignore

A week ahead of the Spice Girls reunion tour kicking off on Friday, Scary Spice Mel B was admitted to a hospital in England fearing that she had gone blind. The media was quick to speculate that this was due to herpes simplex virus (HSV) as she was reportedly admitted for inflammation of the eyes.

The singer later on clarified that she was diagnosed with Iritis in the right eye and Uveitis in the left eye on her Instagram account, two completely different and unrelated eye conditions from what was assumed.

The reason the media jumped the gun without source verification is because HSV-1 is a common cause behind corneal blindness in developed nations. Studies that have assessed the HSV-1 DNA found that the virus is allegedly latent in 90 percent of the human population by the age of 60, in the trigeminal ganglion connecting the nerves to the eyes, according to a research paper that laid down treatment guidelines in the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

GettyImages-612209112 Eye infection that causes redness, blinding pain and breakdown of the corneal surface is called the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is treated with oral antiviral medication and topical steroids. Dr. Charles J. Ball/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

This is probably why it is important to be aware of all the following symptoms: blurry vision, headache, fever, sores on the eyes and forehead, light sensitivity and tearing. Noticing a combination of the signs and symptoms should prompt one to approach an ophthalmologist at the earliest time possible to prevent permanent blindness. 

Here are brief explanations behind some of the symptoms according to this blog post published by Harvard Health Publishing:

Corneal Blindness: The HSV-1 virus can either remain dormant without having little or no effect on the cornea of the eye or it can wreck it completely. HSV can disintegrate the surface of the cornea and cause redness, pain and blurred vision. The virus damages the corneal tissues and inflict long-term visual impairment.

Oral medications like acyclovir and valacyclovir are given as a first-line treatment by ophthalmologists. Topical antibiotics as a preventive measure can be used to ensure that bacterial infection does not appear in the eye.

Stromal Keratitis: When the immune system responds poorly to HSV, it leads to stromal keratitis or the inflammation of cornea, specifically in the middle layer. White patches develop within the cornea as a result. The symptoms of stromal inflammation include increased sensitivity to light and blurry vision, which can potentially lead to blindness once the cornea is permanently scarred.

The only treatment is administration of topical steroids by the opthamologist, and this needs to be carefully weaned off to prevent another episode.

Herpes zoster: Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chicken pox, is known as the shingles and herpes zoster when it gets reactivated in the body. Similarly, it causes stromal inflammation and needs to be treated with steroids and oral antiviral medication.