Shingles, the adult version of chickenpox, is a fairly well-known disease. But did you know that shingles can also affect the eyes? This is called ophthalmic herpes. To properly recover from this disease, treating it as soon as possible is important. What exactly is shingles? How do you recognize and treat it? Here are the answers to your most pressing questions.

What is shingles?

Shingles is an eye infection caused by the shingles virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox in younger people. It is important to know that the chickenpox virus (Varicella Zoster Virus or VZV) remains permanently in a person's body after they have been affected by the disease. Ophthalmic herpes is, therefore, a reactivation of the virus in the face.

In most cases, shingles appears on the person's chest. But when it reactivates along the optic nerve, it causes ophthalmic herpes.

Is shingles contagious?

There is no contagion from shingles. However, if you have shingles, you can spread it to people who have never had it. You should therefore avoid close contact with these people.

What causes shingles?

The onset of shingles is often the result of a weak immune system. This is particularly the case for older people or those in an immunocompromised state due to cancer or an infectious disease, for example.

Fatigue and periods of high stress can also contribute to developing shingles.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The symptoms of ophthalmic herpes vary from person to person. Some individuals develop only ocular symptoms; others develop dermatological symptoms.

However, there are 3 phases in the evolution of shingles:

  • Phase 1: Headaches, tingling in the forehead, nose and eyes, and (in some rare circumstances) a fever
  • Phase 2: A rash in the form of small fluid-filled blisters on the forehead, eyelids, eyes and nose; more rarely, the eyelids swell, and the person suffers from visual disturbances and strong sensitivity to light
  • Phase 3: The blisters turn into scabs, and the person feels pain comparable to that caused by a burn.

Make an appointment if you have any early symptoms of tingling in your eyes. If you have a rash, see your doctor, who can prescribe treatment. Remember, shingles is an emergency and should be diagnosed quickly by a healthcare professional.

What are the complications of shingles?

Complications of shingles are quick to arise. A few days after phase 2 (rash) onset, conjunctivitis, keratitis or uveitis may appear. The earlier shingles is treated, the lower the risk of complications.

What is the treatment for shingles?

The treatment of ophthalmic herpes involves using oral antiviral drugs: aciclovir, valaciclovir, famciclovir and others. Corticosteroids can be added to eye drops or ophthalmic ointments if a patient suffers from ocular inflammation.

People over 50 are also most often offered the chickenpox vaccine to reduce their risk of shingles (throughout the body).

How long does shingles take to cure?

The duration of shingles is 2 to 3 weeks. However, the pain associated with it sometimes takes longer to disappear. This is called postherpetic neuralgia pain.