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Can shingles affect your eyes?

Have you heard of shingles? No, we’re not talking about the things that go on the roof of your house.

We’re talking about a viral infection! If you had chicken pox when you were a child, you have the chance of getting shingles.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella zoster (herpes zoster) virus that causes a painful rash on the skin. This reactivation usually occurs later in life. Once you’ve had chicken pox as a child, the virus never goes away. It simply goes to “sleep” and lays dormant in your nervous system.

With that said, not everyone who had chicken pox will get shingles. Only about 20% of people have the virus “wake up” into a shingles outbreak.

What are symptoms of shingles?

It usually starts with a tingling painful sensation on the skin, and can progress into a rash of painful blisters. You can get it anywhere on your body, but the rash will usually only be on one side of your body (left or right) but never both sides.

There are medications to help heal the blisters and make the reaction go away, but treatment is more effective the sooner it is started. It is important to see your medial doctor quickly if you suspect you may be having a shingles attack.

There is a vaccine available called Zostavax that can decrease your risk of getting shingles in the first place, by about 50%. It is recommended for those over the age of 60.

Can shingles affect your eyes?

Yes! And the reason has to do with the nerves the virus chooses to go dormant in. One of the nerves it likes to live in is called the trigeminal nerve; particularly the frontal branch. This nerve also innervates your eyes! So that’s how it travels to the eye.

It can affect any structure inside or outside of the eye. It may require medication to get the virus under control. Therefore, if you have been diagnosed with shingles by your medical doctor, especially if the blisters are on your face, you should always also see your optometrist to make sure your eyes haven’t also been affected.


Top image by Flickr user Petra Gagilas (location) used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharelike 4.0 License. Image has been cropped and modified from original. Image rights state commercial use and modifications allowed when image was obtained on 07/11/2017.

The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.