How is Blindness Caused by the Herpes Virus?

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herpes virus

“Most people are surprised to find out that the herpes virus (HSV-1) can cause serious eye problems.”

The herpes virus (HSV-1) can cause serious eye problems, including blindness.

But how does it do this?

Medical research shows that like many viruses, the herpes simplex 1 virus is “present in most adults, since they usually infect someone earlier in life. (1) Harvard University says that “The source of infection is usually a family member or friend who is silently shedding virus in the saliva or nasal secretions, or who has an active cold sore. When the virus first enters the body, usually through the nose or mouth, it travels through the nerves up to the same center, which also sends nerves to the eye. There it goes to sleep in an inactive infection state and may never reawaken.

Occasionally, the virus does reactivate (stress!) and, instead of traveling back down the nerves to the mouth or nose, it goes to the eye causing the illness there.” (2) Sometimes, the herpes virus can repeatedly reactivate, causing an outbreak in the eyes or elsewhere.

eye problems The herpes virus, after it causes an initial outbreak, becomes latent in the nerves.
In this state, the virus replicates on a small scale, while producing only some of its proteins. During latency, the virus is able to hide from the immune system, and people usually do not experience typical symptoms. However, when the immune system is weakened, the virus “wakes up” and goes on the attack. This is called viral reactivation. During this phase, an infected individual experiences the standard symptoms, which may result in extreme damage to the eye and even blindness.

It should be noted that eye infection with the herpes virus can “cause inflammation and scarring of the cornea that sometimes is referred to as a cold sore on the eye. Herpes of the eye can be transmitted through close contact with an infected person whose virus is active.” (See, last updated August 2013) (3)

The virus can cause several different conditions, including herpes keratitis, which is the most common form of eye herpes, stromal keratitis (a deeper infection of the cornea), and iridocyclitis (a condition where herpes infects the iris of the eye). (4)

The bottom line?

The oral herpes virus can cause a lot of damage to the body, and is more dangerous than people usually think. One of the major complications of infection with HSV-1 may be extreme damage to the eye that can lead to blindness.


(1) – Eye Health Center – Eye Health and Herpes Viruses.

(2) Digital Journal of Opthamology – Deborah Pavan Langston, M.D., FACS Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School October 15, 2002

(3), last updated August 2013

(4) – Eye Herpes (Ocular Herpes). Last updated on August 2013.

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