Causes of eye herpes

The disease eye herpes is an infection with herpes simplex viruses (HSV). There are two different types of this virus, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 mainly affects the region of the mouth and is responsible, among other things, for the well-known lip herpes.

This type is also mainly responsible for eye herpes. Type 2 is called the genital strain and is mainly responsible for genital herpes. Eye herpes manifests itself in reddened eyes that are very itchy and sometimes sticky.

Vision is often impaired and when blinking there is a foreign body sensation in the eye. In contrast to herpes simplex virus type 2, which is transmitted through sexual intercourse, herpes simplex virus type 1 is transmitted by droplet or smear infections. This means that it can also be transmitted from person to person via the air we breathe.


In most cases, the disease of eye herpes is not a new infection with the virus. Contact with the herpes simplex virus type 1 often occurs during childhood or early adolescence without symptoms. In rare cases, blisters on the lips (lip herpes) or eye herpes may occur.

The herpes simplex virus can remain unnoticed in the body of the infected person for a long time. It nests in the nerve cells and can rest there unnoticed for years or even a whole life. Under certain external circumstances, however, the virus can be activated and herpes can break out.

Then the previously dormant virus multiplies in the nerve cells and can attack different parts of the body. One speaks of eye herpes when the eyelids and cornea are affected, rarely the choroid is also affected. This is the case when the virus is not fought and thus has the possibility to penetrate into the deeper layers of the eye.

The outbreak can be caused by a weakening of the immune system, for example due to a cold, a chronic illness or the intake of medication. Even after operations, the immune system is often weakened and more susceptible to infections. Fever is also a possible activator of the herpes simplex virus.

Stress is often the reason for the sudden appearance of the herpes symptoms. But even strong sunlight can in some cases activate the dormant virus. In addition, hormonal changes in the body, which occur mainly in women, can lead to the outbreak of eye herpes.

It is assumed that about 90 percent of the population is infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1. Most carriers are asymptomatic. However, if the first outbreak of herpes (cold sores or eye herpes) occurs due to the above-mentioned external circumstances, it is highly probable that recurrent outbreaks will also occur.

The disease often first appears as lip herpes. However, a recurring outbreak can cause the disease to spread, which then leads to eye herpes. If the eye is injured or if the eye is particularly sensitive, eye herpes can also be the first to appear.

Once the herpes has developed in the eye, there is a high probability that the person affected will also have herpes in the next outbreak. The distance between the individual attacks varies greatly. It can range from a few weeks to a few years.

The exact cause of the sudden outbreak of a herpes simplex infection is not known. It can only be said that the likelihood of the disease is higher once the illness has occurred. There are also various factors that further increase the likelihood of recurrence.

These include eye injuries, fever (above 38°C) and increased exposure to sunlight. A high level of stress can also lead to a renewed outbreak of the viral disease.