Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Can Cause Blindness

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There has been “a 2.10-fold increase in numbers of HZO (Herpes zoster ophthalmicus) eye cases per year between 1980 and 2007. – Mayo Clinic Proceedings (1)

Herpes Zoster is a condition caused by the reactivation of the Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV).

Herpes zoster (HZV), also known as Shingles, is an increasingly common condition “but most common in adults 50 years and older (1).”

One complication of VZV infection is a condition known as “ophthalmicus.” As WebMD notes on its website “Herpes zoster ophthalmicus is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus).

If shingles affects a certain nerve (trigeminal nerve) in the head, it causes itching, tingling, and a rash on the forehead, cheek, nose, and around one eye. It potentially threatens eyesight (2).” The WebMD page was last updated March 18, 2011.

As the number of herpes zoster cases increase, so do the number of ophthalmicus cases. 


The Olmsted researchers wrote that “The rates (of herpes zoster eye problems) are increasing, and outcomes…can result in prolonged requirements for medical eye care (1).”

The researchers also noted that in at least 6% of individuals there was “significant vision loss (1).”

Herpes zoster ophthalmicus can cause the following harmful conditions in the eye: keratitis, Iritis/uveitis, conjunctivitis, severe eye pain, increased intraocular pressure, corneal scarring, ptosis, corneal ulceration, decreased vision, blurred vision, cataracts (from herpes zoster), diplopia, recurrent inflammation, recurrent iritis/uveitis, and recurrent keratitis. (1)

The bottom line?

VZV can make you go blind.

New safe and effective treatments for those who are already infected need to be developed.


(1) Yawn BP1, Wollan PC, St Sauver JL, Butterfield LC. “Herpes zoster eye complications: rates and trends.” Mayo Clin Proc. 2013 Jun;88(6):562-70.

(2) WebMD.com – Shingles Health Center – Shingles – Topic Overview



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