Before getting you acquainted with the gory details of ophthalmic herpes zoster, (AKA shingles around the eyes), let’s start with the basics.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is an infectious virus of the Herpesviridae family, specifically called the varicella zoster virus (VZV) that most typically affects the geriatric population, however, anyone at standard retirement age should be wary of the condition, particularly if you’ve been exposed to the chickenpox in the past and/or have not been inoculated. VZV has many nicknames worldwide—chickenpox, shingles, zoster virus, human herpesvirus 3 (HHV-3), varicella virus, and so on.
VZV as shingles in adults presents as a vesicular rash and can develop virtually in any location of the body. Other macabre examples of rashes with vesicles include, but are not limited to, acrodermatitis enteropathica, congenital porphyria, and pemphigus vulgaris.
Once the chickenpox strikes (typically in childhood), while the rashes will ultimately subside, the virus remains latent in the body for years. Triggers like illness and stress are classical causes for to reappear. It travels along the sophisticated and complex network of sensory nerves before making its debut (once again) on the skin. It’s intrinsically unpredictable and difficult, if not impossible, to determine where exactly it may or may not show up.
Where Does Shingles Usually Appear?
Shingles usually turn up on the torso, in stripy patterns of blister ridden, maculopapular lesions which mature and form vesicles as the rash advances. Notably, this often occurs on just one side of the body, which is a rather aberrant feature of this viral infection. The entire trunk of the body could be affected, front and back, including the chest, ribcage, and waist.
In occasional cases, the rash will surface in other regions, like the extremities, or even the head and neck. It can curiously materialize on the eye, which poses certain unique threats that are potentially detrimental to the overall wellbeing of the patient.
Why Shingles Near the Eye Can Be Dangerous
When shingles occurs on such sensitive facial regions as the eyes, the results can be quite grave—hence the urgency in attending to the rash immediately.
Herpes zoster ophthalmicus, just as with any sign of shingles on the face, requires immediate medical attention, as this condition is considered to be incredibly severe and treacherous. Complications related to the menacing shingles symptoms near the eye and on the face escalate quickly. Not to mention the eye pain from shingles is severe and troubling.
Symptoms of Shingles Near the Eye
The standard painful symptoms of shingles apply here, along with some nasty other particulars.
An episode of shingles on the eye yields some rather unpleasant symptoms that could well scare you if you’re unfamiliar with what lies ahead. For starters, the first symptoms of eye shingles will be the signature rash that comes along with all variations of shingles, irrespective of their locality. The rash, accompanied by their distinctive blisters of fluid, will appear on the forehead, the temples, along the eyebrows, cheekbones, on the bridge of the nose and in the tender, soft, under-eye areas and eyelids as well.
Eye Pain from Shingles
As if that wasn’t abhorrent enough, auxiliary painful symptoms are in tow, to boot. These include eye puffiness, droopiness, irritation, and redness, as well as a fiery burning or throbbing sensation. Epiphora, the phenomenon of excessively watery, teary eyes that’s often mistaken for crying by your peers, is also not an uncommon symptom of eye shingles. Many patients also complain of extreme photosensitivity, or the inability to withstand even dim lighting.
Vision problems eventually ensue, starting with a loss of mobility in the eye. It gets worse, if left untreated, shingles can permanently damage your eyesight. It begins with blurred vision until a total loss is achieved. While going blind is rare, it’s still possible.
Preexisting eye diagnoses, such as glaucoma, could be harmful as well, as shingles symptoms may go unnoticed, or chalked up to the existing condition instead.
Treatment of Shingles in the Eye
The only option for managing eye shingles is the hasty commencement of an aggressive treatment plan.
Dilated eye exams need to be performed by an ophthalmologist to monitor eye health, they will closely inspect the cornea, lens, and retina, as well as the surrounding skin. After a diagnosis has been made, it’s likely oral antiviral medications will be prescribed, as well as eyedrops to manage the disabling condition.
Have patience during recovery, and trust your ophthalmology specialist.
Is Shingles of the Eye Contagious?
Shingles is contagious only to those who have not yet be infected with VZV. When someone who has already battled the chickenpox is exposed to a peer with shingles, they are safe, as the infection in question already resides within them in a dormant state.
The same goes for shingles of the eye, it’s contagious only to those who’ve not dealt with the virus.
Actively Preventing Shingles
Shingles can only be effectively prevented with a vaccination. There are two popular options available for vaccinating—Shingrix and Zostavax, though the former is pushed more frequently by the CDC.
Should VZV rear its ugly head on your face, make no hesitation in seeking emergency medical treatment. Effective and hasty shingles in the eye treatment will obscure the scary pictures of blindness into oblivion.
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