, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 79-91
Date: 12 Oct 2010

Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus

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Opinion statement

The management of herpes zoster (HZ) usually involves a multidisciplinary approach aiming to reduce complications and morbidity. Patients with herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO) are referred to ophthalmologists for prevention or treatment of its potential complications. Without prompt detection and treatment, HZO can lead to substantial visual disability. In our practice, we usually evaluate patients with HZO for corneal complications such as epithelial, stromal, and disciform keratitis; anterior uveitis; necrotizing retinitis; and cranial nerve palsies in relation to the eye. These are acute and usually sight-threatening. We recommend oral acyclovir in conjunction with topical 3% acyclovir ointment, lubricants, and steroids for conjunctival, corneal, and uveal inflammation associated with HZO. Persistent vasculitis and neuritis may result in chronic ocular complications, the most important of which are neurotrophic keratitis, mucus plaque keratitis, and lipid degeneration of corneal scars. Postherpetic complications, especially postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), are observed in well over half of patients with HZO. The severe, debilitating, chronic pain of PHN is treated locally with cold compresses and lidocaine cream (5%). These patients also receive systemic treatment with NSAIDs, and our medical colleagues cooperate in managing their depression and excruciating pain. Pain is the predominant symptom in all phases of HZ disease, being reported by up to 90% of patients. Ocular surgery for HZO-related complications is performed only after adequately stabilizing pre-existing ocular inflammation, raised intraocular pressure, dry eye, neurotrophic keratitis, and lagophthalmos. Cranial nerve palsies are common and most often involve the facial nerve, although palsy of the oculomotor, trochlear, and abducens nerves may occur in isolation or (rarely) simultaneously. In our setting, complete ophthalmoplegia is seen more often than isolated palsies, but recovery is usually complete. Vasculitis within the orbital apex (orbital apex syndrome) or brainstem dysfunction is postulated to be the cause of cranial nerve palsies. A vaccine of a lyophilized preparation of the oka strain of live, attenuated varicella-zoster virus is suggested for patients who are at risk of developing HZ and has been shown to boost immunity against HZ virus in older patients.