At Georgia Eye, we know that caring for the eyes can often be more complicated than most people think. Even though many of the conditions that can affect vision, like common refractive errors or chronic dry eye, are relatively straightforward and easy to diagnose, it is also important to remember that the eyes are complicated and delicate organs and that they may be seriously affected by conditions that seem to have nothing to do with them. Take, for example, shingles. Many people are familiar with shingles as a kind of skin condition that can cause an extremely painful rash, but most are unaware that it actually affects the nerves and, if it occurs on the face, can potentially cause serious damage to the eyes or even long-term vision loss. Here are the important things that you need to know about how the shingles virus can impact your vision and what you can do to help prevent it.
Shingles, which is medically known as herpes zoster, is a relatively common condition that is believed to affect as many as one in three people over the course of their lifetimes. If you have ever had chicken-pox, the varicella-zoster virus that causes it never goes away, but instead remains inactive deep inside the roots of the nerves. Generally, your immune system is sufficient to keep the virus dormant, but as we grow older our natural defenses tend to become less effective. In some people, this can allow the virus to reactivate and spread up the nerves and to the skin, where it ultimately manifests as a red, blistering rash, usually accompanied by deep, penetrating pain from the nerve endings. Most often, the rash occurs as a band or strip on one side of the abdomen and back. However, because there are nerve endings across the entire skin surface, herpes zoster can potentially flare up anywhere on the body. If the forehead, temple, or nose becomes infected, the eye may become infected as well, and this can have serious ramifications.
The blisters and sores caused by the herpes zoster rash easily become infected, so if that rash is close to the eye it can easily lead to eye infections that cause pain, redness, light sensitivity, and eyelid swelling. Unfortunately, this may only be the tip of the iceberg. The infection can also cause the cornea (the clear layer in front of the iris and pupil) to become swollen, severely damaged, and scarred. When the structures behind the cornea become inflamed the pressure of the fluids inside the eye can increase to the point that it begins to damage the optic nerve. Ultimately this can result in glaucoma, a serious condition which can result in permanent vision loss.
Fortunately, if shingles is caught early and treated with antiviral drugs within the first three days, the duration of the rash and the risk of eye complications can be significantly reduced. Corticosteroids, usually in the form of eye drops, can be used to control dangerous inflammation as well. The eye care specialists at Georgia Eye can diagnose this and help you treat it, so call us immediately if you think you may be starting to exhibit symptoms. Finally, a shingles vaccine is also recommended for healthy people aged 60 or over, regardless of whether they have had chickenpox or shingles. This vaccine not only decreases the chance of getting shingles but also makes any outbreaks that do occur less severe than they would be in people who have not been vaccinated. If you are concerned with your eyesight, or would like to schedule a comprehensive medical eye examination, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more to keep your vision healthy.