Infectious diseases: ocular herpes can easily destroy our cornea

The "eye flu" diseases increase in the autumn months. Experts explain how to protect yourself from infection. (Photo: Birgit Reitz-Hofmann /

Dangerous viruses: Eye herpes can destroy the cornea
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), two out of three people are infected with herpes viruses. Some infected people have regular mouth outbreaks of herpes. The pathogens can also affect other parts of the body, for example the cornea. This can quickly damage the eye.


Many do not even notice their infection
According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), more than 85 percent of Germans are infected with herpes viruses, the majority do not even notice it. The viruses often only become active through certain influences such as stress or strong sunlight and lead to the familiar vesicles on the mouth. But in some people the viruses also affect the cornea. The eye can then quickly be damaged.

Many people know about herpes on the lips. Herpes viruses can also attack the cornea. This can quickly damage the eye. (Photo: Birgit Reitz-Hofmann /
Often times, parents infect their children
Often it already happens in infancy: Parents transmit herpes viruses to the baby when they kiss goodnight. This can be dangerous for certain groups of people: Herpes is a deadly danger for newborns, because in some cases it can lead to inflammation of the brain.

The herpes viruses can also be really dangerous in the eyes, and not only in small children.

The infection often goes unnoticed at first, reports the dpa news agency. However, the viruses then withdraw into the brain and strike again later.

Important to know: "There are two types of herpes simplex virus, type 1 and type 2. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV 1) is responsible for most cases of herpes in the face / lip area," writes the RKI on its Website.

"The infection with HSV 1 (face / lip area) can be transmitted from childhood through close physical contact, e.g. between mother and child, between siblings or playmates," say the experts.

Infection of the eye is less common than that of the lip
"The first infection with herpes simplex virus type 1 on the eye is rarer than on the lip," explained Prof. Thomas Reinhard, Medical Director of the Clinic for Ophthalmology at the Freiburg University Medical Center in the dpa report.

"If the viruses return to the eye, they can destroy the cornea within a short time."

After the first infection, the viruses lurk in the brain, because the carrier has a weakened immune system, for example, and then return to the site of the initial infection.

According to the information, the viruses in the eye usually infect the outer layer (epithelium) and inner layer (endothelium) of the cornea. The body reacts to the infection with an immune response that also damages the cornea.

As the agency report says, the cornea, as a kind of windshield of the eye, is actually responsible for protecting the inside of the eye. If it is destroyed, there is a risk of blindness.

Ocular herpes often looks like conjunctivitis
The problem, however, is that the first infection with herpes on the eye is difficult to recognize. "A typical sign are vesicles on the edge of the eyelid," explained Reinhard.

If parents observe something like this in their offspring, they must see an ophthalmologist immediately. With the help of medication, this can in some cases prevent the infection from developing and returning later.

Herpes on the eye, however, usually looks like conjunctivitis. The ophthalmologist will often only find out that the virus is herpes when the infection returns.

People who are known to have ocular herpes should see a medical specialist as soon as there is a slight reddening or it is even a little scratchy. The infection is usually treated with acyclovir tablets or ointment, and in most cases, cortisone ointments or drops.

As the report says, the herpes simplex virus type 1 is not always behind the disease. Cytomegaly viruses, Epstein-Barr viruses and the chickenpox pathogen varicella-zoster viruses can also attack the eye. (ad)

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