Herpes Keratitis


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Herpes Simplex Keratitis

Eye Herpes: Herpes Simplex Keratitis

Herpes simplex keratitis is a viral infection of the eye which, if left untreated, can significantly damage the cornea. Keratitis is a common corneal condition in which front part of the eye becomes thickened and inflamed. This condition is frequently accompanied by visual impairment and mild to severe pain. In cases where this type keratitis is triggered by the herpes simplex virus, the cornea is often damaged by the formation of a corneal ulcer caused by viral disruption of the corneal epithelial layer and the corneal stroma. Herpes simplex keratitis will usually affect only one eye and is a frequent cause of single eye blindness.

Herpes simplex keratitis, which is more commonly known as “eye herpes”, is an increasingly common medical complaint. Infection by the herpes simplex virus can bring about a significant inflammation of the clear tissue of the cornea, which serves to cover and protect the front part of the human eye. Unfortunately, herpes simplex is a very common human infection and, once infected, most people will host the herpes virus for life. Herpes simplex keratitis is not normally caused by initial infection (although this pathology is not unknown). Typically the condition will be triggered by the reactivation of a pre-existing herpes infection.

Although the herpes simplex virus never actually leaves the body once a primary infection has taken hold, the virus can remain dormant for long periods of time. When dormant, the virus appears to rest largely within nerve tissue and, once reactivated, quickly spreads and can trigger various conditions of which corneal keratitis can be one.

However, not everyone with a herpes simplex infection goes on to develop keratitis, and it is still not clear why infection will trigger this condition in some individuals but not in others. Even so, there are approximately half a million people in the US alone that have a history of herpes simplex driven eye problems and about twenty thousand new cases occur annually.

Herpes simplex keratitis is typically characterized by pain, tearing, redness of the eye, visual blurring and a pronounced sensitivity to bright light. Unfortunately, these symptoms closely resemble those of the far more common condition of ocular conjunctivitis. Because of this, a diagnosis of herpes simplex keratitis is frequently not made until the cornea is extensively affected. Even without treatment this infection will frequently retreat on its own. However, the more frequently reactivation occurs, the greater is the risk of damage to the cornea. After several cycles of reactivation, herpes simplex keratitis may cause deep corneal ulcers, significant visual impairment and, eventually, blindness.

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