Reactivated chicken pox (shingles) can happen to your eyes, too: WGECC’s corneal specialist on best treatment practices

Posted by: West Georgia Eye Care Center in Frontpage Article on March 25, 2016

Dr. Cynthia P. Nix,  corneal disease specialist at West Georgia Eye Care, reporting on a common malady that could concern all of us:



“Shingles of the eye and orbit is called Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus (HZO). It is caused by reactivated chicken pox virus, called Zoster, along a nerve distribution causing a painful skin rash. When it activates along the facial nerve, it can cause severe consequences for the eye and vision.


Shingles is concerning for all of us. It used to be that predominantly immunocompromised people–like the elderly, HIV+, or cancer patients–were prone to shingles. That is no longer the case. The incidence of shingles is increasing, and younger and younger individuals are getting it. Shingles in children is not uncommon today. The reasons for this are not clear and scientific research on these topics continues to be critical. What is clear, however, is that most of us will experience shingles at some point in our lifetime.


While the rash is painful and can leave significant scarring, the sequelae, or chronic aftermath, of Zoster are the most concerning effects. One complication from shingles is persistent nerve pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This lingering pain affects about 10-15 percent of people who have had shingles. It can be debilitating and treatment is limited. 


Likewise, Zoster in the eye can cause scarring of the cornea, recurrent relapsing inflammation (iritis), blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and retinitis (which is blinding). Zoster of forehead and/or nose has serious implications for eventual involvement of the eye. Patients affected by shingles in the forehead/nose area should see their ophthalmologist urgently.


There is good news with regard to Zoster/shingles. The Zoster vaccine has been available since 2007 and can greatly reduce the incidence and severity of shingles as well as the risk of developing PHN. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends primary care doctors to give this vaccine to ALL qualifying individuals who are 50 years old and older. The vaccine does not last forever, though, and many experts recommend repeating it every three years.


Please ask your primary doctor about the Zoster vaccine.”