With review and contributions from Ophthalmologists Ian Kirchner, MD (Statesville, University) and Robert Saltzmann, MD (SouthPark, Belmont)

We recently talked about how shingles can affect your cornea. But the cornea is not the only part of the eye it can affect. Today we’ll talk about how shingles can cause glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an optic nerve disease that is often caused by pressure imbalances in the eye. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers and transmits the images we see from the eye to the brain. This can lead to blind spots and vision loss.

What is shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox: varicella zoster virus (VZV). 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.

How does shingles cause glaucoma?

Robert Saltzmann, MD

If it enters the anterior chamber of the eye, the varicella zoster virus can stimulate the entry point to the drainage system of the eye, known as the trabecular meshwork. This causes inflammation of that area, known as trabeculitis, which can then drive the eye pressure up to extremely high levels, CEENTA Ophthalmologist Robert Saltzmann, MD, said. If left untreated, those high pressures can result in irreversible optic nerve damage. The virus can also cause the retina to and optic nerve to swell, which can lead to more direct injury to the optic nerve as well. Glaucoma damage is, unfortunately, irreversible, so it is important for a doctor to catch the disease early.

How can I keep my eyes healthy?

Shingles can usually be diagnosed during a routine exam with your primary care physician. If the rash is near your eye, see an ophthalmologist to rule out glaucoma or other eye problems. The sooner you get treated, the more likely it is that you can avoid long-term problems. Shingles treatment usually involves an oral antiviral medication and pain control.

Ian Kirchner, MD

While glaucoma can’t be cured or reversed, it can be treated. Treatment usually consists of eyedrops, but it can also include laser treatment or surgery to create a new drain. You would need to visit an ophthalmologist regularly to monitor the disease, CEENTA Ophthalmologist Ian Kirchner, MD, said.

If you have shingles, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor. Early detection of glaucoma could save your vision.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like to make an appointment with Dr. Kirchner or Dr. Saltzmann? Call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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