Shingles is a viral disease that can cause a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters on your skin. But did you know it can affect your cornea, too?

What is the cornea?

The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye. It shields the eye from harmful matter and functions like a window that controls and focuses the entry of light into the eye.

What is shingles?

Priyanka Kanakamedala, MD

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have an initial outbreak of chickenpox – often during childhood – the virus can lay dormant in your system for years. However, in some people the virus can reactivate at another time in their lives, often triggered by advanced age, a weakened immune system, or stress.

When reactivation occurs, the virus travels along nerve pathways and infects some parts of the body, often creating a painful, blistering rash on the skin. Patients might also experience a headache, fever, fatigue, or flu-like symptoms. Some people will develop shingles on their head and neck, possibly involving the eye, nose, cheek, or forehead. Of these patients, many will develop shingles of the cornea, CEENTA Ophthalmologist Priyanka Kanakamedala, MD, said.

What will shingles do to my cornea?

If you do get shingles on your cornea, it may cause corneal inflammation or swelling. In some cases, it may be severe enough to leave permanent scars. This can lead to anything from blurred vision to permanent sight loss. If it does cause severe corneal scarring or thinning, you may need a cornea transplant.

How should I protect my eyes?

Herpes zoster can usually be diagnosed on routine exam with your primary care physician. If the rash is present near the eye, you should see an ophthalmologist to rule out eye involvement. The sooner you get treated, the more likely it is that you can avoid long-term problems, Dr. Kanakamedala said. Treatment usually involves an oral antiviral medication and pain control. Other treatment may be prescribed by your ophthalmologist that is tailored to your specific eye problem. Some individuals may qualify for a new shingles vaccine.

CEENTA has cornea specialists throughout North Carolina. If you are worried about shingles harming your eye, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of them.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Dr. Kanakamedala sees patients in our Concord, Huntersville, and University offices. To schedule an appointment with her or any of CEENTA’s eye doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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