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November 22, 2013: Shingles in the Eye

Many people are familiar with shingles but did you know that you can get shingles in the eye? Shingles in the eye, also known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus, is an infection that occurs due to reactivation of the varicella zoster (chickenpox) virus that lies dormant in the nerve cells. It is a serious medical condition that needs prompt attention and treatment from your eye doctor.

Shingles is characterized by a painful rash that may occur on the body as a reaction from a dormant chickenpox virus. Once a person contracts chickenpox after being exposed to varicella zoster, this virus lies in an inactive form in the nerve roots. If it flares up, it travels along the nerve, resulting in a burning sensation, itching, and a blistered rash. If the virus travels along the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve, one would suffer from ophthalmic shingles or shingles in the eye. Remember, only those who have previously suffered from chickenpox can develop this condition.

Shingles are quite painful, as they affect the sensory nerves in the body. The presence of a rash on the area surrounding the eye distinguishes shingles from other eye ailments. The symptoms of shingles are as follows:
-Pain in the affected side of the face
-Redness in the eye, eyelids, and surrounding areas
-Blistered rash on the affected area which may spread as far as the tip of the nose
-Increased sensitivity to light
-Blurred vision in the affected eye
-A pricking sensation in the eye
-Discharge from the eye

The virus may affect various parts of the eye including the eyelid, cornea, iris, retina, and the optic nerve. Consult your eye doctor as early as possible if you notice these symptoms, as a delay in treatment may cause substantial damage to your eye.

Statistics tell us that 10-20% of the people diagnosed with shingles are likely to develop ophthalmic shingles. People above the age of 50 are susceptible to developing this condition.

Any person suffering from shingles in the eye should seek treatment from an eye doctor as soon as possible. The eye doctor will prescribe prescribe antiviral and anti-inflammatory medication.

However, the best medicine is always preventive medicine. A shingles vaccine is available to persons 50 years of age and older. Please ask you general practitioner or internist if this vaccine would be helpful to you and tell them that your eye doctor sent you!

And remember---check yearly, see clearly!