Shingles is a disease caused by a virus. You may already know that it causes a rash and can be very painful. Shingles usually occurs on the upper body, but sometimes affects the face. If it does, shingles can get into the eye and cause serious vision problems.

How shingles can get into your eyes

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. If you had chicken pox as a child, this virus – called the varicella zoster virus, or VZV – is still in your body. It stays in the nerves that carry sensations around your body (these are called the sensory nerves). If something activates the virus, it causes pain and a rash in the area around those nerves.

Shingles can get into the eyes if the facial nerves are affected. View a slideshow about shingles, including pictures of the shingles rash around the eye.

Symptoms of shingles in the eye

If you have any of the symptoms below, call your primary care doctor or eye doctor immediately:

  • Shingles on the face, especially the nose or anywhere near the eye
  • Eyelid swelling and redness
  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light

Eye problems caused by shingles

Shingles in the eye can cause glaucoma, scarring and a serious condition called acute retinal necrosis that can cause blindness.

Because shingles can cause such serious problems, the shingles vaccine is recommended for people over 60.

What is the treatment for shingles in the eye?

Prescription antiviral medications are the main treatment. These can be drops, pills or both. For the treatment to be effective, it must be started as soon as possible, so do not wait to call the doctor if you have shingles on the face. Your doctor might also prescribe drops to fight inflammation and dilate the pupil, which can help relieve pain.

It is important to take all the medicine you are prescribed exactly as directed and call your doctor if you have any questions. Using medication incorrectly can allow the infection to persist and cause serious eye damage.

Do I need to see an eye doctor about shingles?

If you have shingles anywhere on the face, you should see an eye doctor right away. You are always welcome to call Oregon Eye Specialists at 503-935-5580. We have 10 convenient locations in the Portland metro area and at the Oregon coast. All our physicians are trained and experienced at recognizing shingles and the eye symptoms it can cause.