Shingles is a painful viral disease that can affect any adult, particularly those over 60, who has had chicken pox. Chances are, you’ve had chicken pox. One million Americans develop shingles every year.
Shingles can form anywhere on the body, but the second most common place it appears is on the face, either around one eye or on one side of the forehead. Up to 25% of shingles sufferers will have it on the face and in their eye or eyes. If you have shingles on the face, see your eye doctor immediately. You can usually prevent shingles from getting to your eyes with early treatment.
Shingles and the eyes
Symptoms of shingles on the face include a visible rash, swelling of the eyelid(s) and redness, eye pain, and light sensitivity. Shingles on the skin is what causes eyelid swelling and conjunctivitis. While painful, and potentially lingering skin itching and discomfort can occur, shingles on the eyeball itself can be very dangerous if not treated.
Shingles in the eye is called herpes zoster ophthalmicus. It can result in scarring and vision loss. Shingles on the cornea can result in dry eye so severe that it could lead to ulcers on the eye or bacterial infection that can scar and impact vision. Shingles can also get deep into the eye and inflame the retina. Glaucoma and acute retinal necrosis could cause blindness and therefore are extremely serious. In acute retinal necrosis, the rods and cones of the eye are lost. If this occurs, the retina is damaged irreversibly and the patient could become blind.
Preventative treatment is, obviously, the best course of action. Seeing your eye doctor immediately can prevent shingles from spreading to your eyes in the first place. Doctors advise that treatment should begin within 72 hours of noticing the rash. If, however, shingles does manage to get into your eyes, your doctor can still effectively treat it with prescription antiviral medications. These might be in the form of drops, pills or both. Even though it is treatable you must start the treatment as soon as possible and follow the medication instructions closely for it to be effective.
Early warning signs
Even if you’ve not yet developed the visible painful rash that is shingles, shingles does have early warning signs. The initial symptoms of shingles are itching, tingling, burning and pain in the area where the visible rash will develop. These symptoms can develop one to five days before you see the rash. So, if you experience these symptoms on your face, and you suspect you might have shingles, see your eye doctor right away.
Thankfully, permanent vision loss in patients with shingles is rare. Nonetheless, see your eye doctor immediately if you get or suspect you have shingles on your face or in your eyes.