Ocular herpes, or eye herpes is caused by the type 1 herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores. The herpes simplex virus (HSV) results from direct contact with a sore or body fluid of another person who is infected. Eye herpes results when the eye is involved, as in self-contamination by rubbing the eyes. Ocular herpes is a reoccurring viral infection that can cause inflammation and scarring of the cornea. Sometimes it is referred to as a cold sore of the eyes. It ranges from simple infection to a potentially serious blinding condition. Treatment depends upon the severity of the condition.
Several Forms of Eye Herpes
- Herpes keratitis, the most common, and mildest form, affects the top layer of the cornea.
- Stromal keratitis happens when the deeper layers of the cornea are affected and can lead to scarring causing blinding.
- Iridocyclitis is the most serious form of ocular herpes in which not only the cornea is affected but also the deeper tissues of the iris causing severe light sensitivity, blurred vision, pain and redness. It is a type of uveitis.
- Hepes retinitis is when the infection occurs in the retina, the back of the eye.
Ocular herpes is characterized by a painful sore on the eyelid or on the surface of the cornea of the eye.
- Infection of conjunctiva and eyelids that heals without scarring
- Recurring eye infections
- Blurry vision
- Redness and sores
- Tearing and discharges
- Eye sensitivity and light sensitivity
Ocular herpes is caused by infection from others or self-infection from a cold sore. Because the virus can lie dormant for years, it may be inactive and become active in times of stress, sunburn, trauma, etc.
- An imbalance of the amino acids argine and lysine in the body makes us more vulnerable. Arginine is necessary for HSV to grow, suggesting supplementation with lysine.
- Stress causes the immune system to be less effective
- Excess sugar increases the risk and severity of outbreaks
- People who have had ocular herpes previously should avoid arginine supplementation.
- Dry eye may be a stressor contributing to outbreaks of the condition.
Treatment depends on the form of the condition. The milder form (epithelial keratitis) arising from live virus is treated with antiviral eye drops, ointments or pills. An eye doctor may scrape away infected cells with a swab and then apply a patch so that the cornea can heal.
A more severe form, herpetic stromal keratitis is treated with corticosteroid drops to decrease inflammation but they have been known to cause recurrence and can cause an increase in ocular eye pressure, a danger for those susceptible to glaucoma. There is no cure, but treatment can control outbreaks.
Although more research is needed, some studies have found that lysine, or L-lysine, an essential amino acid, taken on a regular basis may help prevent outbreaks of cold sores and genital herpes. Because L-lysine blocks the activity leading to HSV development. One study found that L-lysine was better at preventing than curing herpes, and another found that taking it at the beginning of an outbreak did not reduce symptoms. Our recommendation therefore, is that because this condition can repeat, if you have it one time, you increase L-lysine in your diet to try to prevent future outbreaks.
Talk to your doctor about your proper dosage. It is considered safe, but high dosages might cause gallstones, renal dysfunction. People with kidney or liver disease, and pregnant women should talk to their doctor.
- Supplementation with helpful nutrients and eyedrops that have been found to be helpful for ocular herpes.
- Diet & lifestyle protocol - see our recommendations for supporting vision for detailed information.
- Reduce or eliminate refined, white foods from your diet including white sugar, flour, pasta and white rice from your diet. These foods reduce your immune system's ability to fight outbreaks and new infections.
- Allergens Identify and avoid foods and/or chemicals you may be allergic to.
- L-Arginine Avoid foods (like cashews) that contain L-arginine, because this amino acid may facilitate outbreaks. Other foods high in arginine are chocolate, peanuts and almonds.
- Supplement with organic style vitamins and minerals including the following: lysine (an amino acid that can help to control herpes), vitamin C, selenium, lithium (slows down formation of the viral capsid), zinc (boosts the infection-fighting capability of immune system), and vitamin A.
- See all corneal support vitamins, eyedrops and supplements.
Although the underlying physiological cause may be unique, there may be similarities in terms of nutritional, diet and lifestyle recommendations made by Dr. Grossman for eye conditions that result in similar vision symptoms to those of ocular herpes.
JAMA. 2006 Aug 23;296(8):964-73:, Xu F, Sternberg MR, Kottiri BJ, McQuillan GM, Lee FK, Nahmias AJ, Berman SM,
L-lysine. Monograph, Altern Med Rev. 2007 Jun;12(2):169-72.
Natural remedies for Herpes simplex., Altern Med Rev. 2006 Jun;11(2):93-101. Gaby AR.