Shingles near the eye
June 12, 2020 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I have shingles for the first time. It started with intense head and neck pain on 6/8; on 6/10, I woke up with a big red rash on my forehead. I’m taking an antibiotic. The head and neck pain are gone and I’m using a paste of baking soda and water for the itch, which helps a lot.

I got my first blister this morning. It’s near my right eye between my nose and my eyelid. No pain there, no rash, but I’m very concerned about that. Does anyone have any experience with shingles blisters by the eye? I have a call in to my GP and am waiting to hear back.
posted by htm to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I’m taking an antibiotic.

I hope you mean an antiviral; the class of drugs generally known as antibiotics are for treating bacterial infections, which shingles is not.
posted by flabdablet at 10:59 AM on June 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Shingles in the head is deadly serious, my mom had this last year and I think even now she still has some residual nerve issues. Get thee to a doctor ASAP.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:09 AM on June 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Seconding that head shingles, maybe particularly near the eye, is serious. Your doctor will hopefully recommend you go in to be seen, but if you haven't heard from them in a few hours call your local urgent care and arrange to get seen today. There are antivirals that can help reduce the duration and severity but they work better if you get them more quickly. (I'm not a medical person, my partner just had shingles a couple years ago and we were lucky to catch it very early; the doc at urgent care told us how important it was we came in quickly and that his experience would be much better as a result.)

Also if you meant "antiviral" instead of "antibiotic", then you should contact the doc who prescribed the antiviral, and explain about the blisters near the eye; they'll tell you what to do.
posted by nat at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, flabdablet; I misspoke. I'm taking an antiviral (Valacyclovir).
posted by htm at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had shingles near my eye and was advised to see an opthamologist in the ER immediately after my diagnosis. Like, they phoned over to the ER and sent me right way. This is because if the shingles gets *into* your eye, you can go blind. They advised me to return if I had any blurred vision or difficulty focusing my eyes.

Shingles can be very, very serious. In your case, it sounds like you started taking the anti-viral before the blistering started, which is good and it may clear up more quickly because of that. But I would still 100% recommend you get your eyes checked.
posted by mai at 11:25 AM on June 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

I had shingles on the left side of my face 26 years ago. The symptoms were intense pain and extreme sensitivity to light in my left eye. The long-term effects, which I'm still dealing with today, were keratitis (clouding of the cornea) in my left eye and Meniere's disease (some loss of balance and some hearing loss in my left ear). I've been seeing an ophthalmologist annually ever since.

I hope your case isn't as serious.
posted by davcoo at 11:27 AM on June 12, 2020

I had ocular shingles a few years ago and have a permanent visual impairment due to corneal scarring. It could have been much worse, but I think it could also have gone better if treated earlier.

So Nthing this is potentially serious and you should get as much medical attention as you can as soon as you can.
posted by liebchen at 11:32 AM on June 12, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks much, ALL, for your feedback. I sincerely appreciate it. I left detailed phone messages for my GP and my ophthalmologist. I am waiting to hear back.
posted by htm at 11:40 AM on June 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

This is also a good time to note that if you're over 50, there's a two-shot shingles vaccination that is available. A doctor friend of mine highly recommends it, though she mentioned that availability is sometimes inconsistent.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:44 PM on June 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

Just a note that shingles can attack the eyeball in two different ways. It can attack the outer eyeball. There is a simple test an ophthalmologist can give to determine if this is the case (involving special eye drops, as I recall).

Much less commonly, it can attack the inside of the eyeball by coming up through the optic nerve, which is what happened to me. I had a pain behind my eyeball, like ice-cream headache pain but much sharper. Then I woke up on a Sunday morning with my vision in that eyeball coming and going. I called my GP, who said to go to the emergency room. The doctor there looked inside the eyeball using the large equipment you put your forehead against while they peer inside your eyeball (don't know what that thing is called). I got the impression he was not familiar with that equipment. He said, "It looks fine" and sent me home. I called my GP on Monday to tell him. He sighed sadly and said shingles in the eyeball has to be treated right away. He made a call and sent me to an eye doctor. I told that doctor I had shingles and my vision was gone in one eye. He said I had an ocular migraine and that it would go away. I said, "No, I have never had a migraine of any kind in my entire life." He then disappeared for a while, came back, looked inside my eyeball and said, "Oh my." Long story short, I was prescribed drops and pills (an antiviral and drops to relieve the eyeball pressure) and my vision returned after a few days.

In terms of long term damage, my prescription changed such that one eye can read at book length, and the damaged eye can read at computer screen length, so it actually worked in my favor, I guess you could say. My regular eye doctor said mine was a rare case and that he did not understand why they did not call in an eye doctor at the emergency room, since, for example, he was on call for that kind of stuff as part of his job.
posted by jabah at 1:46 PM on June 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Came here to say 'get the shot', in my case a single shot provided free because, apparently, I am 'old'.

Also seconding seriousness of it, but I see you are already onto it. Don't let up, chase a response if it is slow coming. Good luck.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:05 PM on June 12, 2020

Yes, had this happen to me, though thankfully without the pain. When I went to urgent care the doctor made me promise to walk a block down to the eye hospital ER, where I had at least two people look in my dilated eyes before sending me home. Two days later my eye was so swollen it was practically closed. I then had a bunch of follow up checks with my regular eye doctor, who told me she would have come in to see me for an emergency visit. All fine in the end, but they do not mess around with shingles near the eye.

I think my dermatologist later told me if you get a blister on the tip of your nose that can mean it was in the same nerve as the eye. Check out face nerve diagrams, they matched my shingles exactly. One of those cooling eye masks was the best thing ever. Calamine lotion also helped. Good luck and I hope you feel better soon.
posted by sepviva at 9:44 PM on June 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks much, ALL, for your extremely helpful feedback. Last Friday, after reading your posts, I left detailed messages for my GP and ophthalmologist. My GP called me back and confirmed that I did, in fact, need to see an ophthalmologist that day, and that shingles blisters can cause blindness!

My ophthalmologist, who seems to be highly regarded in the medical community, said he “doesn’t need to see me unless there’s a change in my vision”. I was shocked by his response.

I got on the phone and persisted until I found an ophthalmologist who would see me. The doctor I ended up going to was recommended by my optometrist. I was given a thorough eye exam and was told that my eyes were in good shape and I wasn’t at risk for going blind; I was prescribed an antibiotic ointment for the blister, which is gone now. I had a follow up visit with that same ophthalmologist this morning. I am so grateful I went to see him.

Thank you, again!
posted by htm at 10:18 PM on June 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

So happy you persisted and found somebody who would look after you. "Going blind" is a "change in vision" for sure but not one you want to mess with!

Was just wondering how you were doing, I am glad that you are doing well!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:25 PM on June 16, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks much, "fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit"! I sincerely appreciate your concern.
posted by htm at 10:42 PM on June 16, 2020

I was prescribed an antibiotic ointment for the blister, which is gone now

Lucky. Topical antibiotics can slow healing of shingles blisters.

From the same page I linked earlier, for the benefit of others similarly afflicted:
What else can I do if I have shingles?

If you have shingles there are several things you can do to help manage the condition. They include the following:
  • Try to keep the rash as dry and as clean as possible.
  • Try not to scratch the rash. Scratching may cause infection and scarring of the blisters.
  • After a bath or shower, gently pat yourself dry with a clean towel. Do not rub or use the towel to scratch yourself and do not share towels.
  • Wear loose cotton clothes around the parts of the body that are affected.
  • If you do need to cover the blisters to prevent contamination, then use a non-stick dressing. Do not use antibiotic creams or sticking plasters on the blisters since they may slow down the healing process.
  • Cool compresses, baths or ice packs may help with the discomfort. Do not apply ice packs directly to the skin. Wrap the ice pack in a light towel and place it gently over the dressing. Wash the towel in hot water after use.
  • If the blisters are open, applying creams or gels is not recommended because they might increase the risk of a secondary bacterial infection.
  • Avoid contact with people who may be more at risk, such as pregnant women who are not immune to chickenpox, people who have a weak immune system and babies less than 1 month old.
  • Do not share towels, play contact sports, or go swimming.
(emphasis mine)
posted by flabdablet at 3:01 AM on June 17, 2020

As flabdablet pointed out above, shingles is a virus - antibiotics don't work on a virus. If a medical professional prescribed an antibiotic that suggests there are a couple of possibly independent things happening, , not 'just' a shingles outbreak. The blister may not have been part of the shingles outbreak, but something different.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:05 AM on June 17, 2020

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