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A Guide to Retinal Necrosis Syndrome

written by: AlyssaAst • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 5/24/2011

Retinal necrosis is an eye infection caused by common viruses. This infection can threaten vision and needs to be treated promptly, because serious complications can occur.

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    Acute retinal necrosis syndrome is an infection of the eye, which is usually caused by the chicken pox virus, cytomegalovirus or herpes simplex. In some cases, both eyes can be affected by this infection. Symptoms of this infection can vary but commonly include pain around the eyes. Treatment for this infection is needed, because certain complications can arise when left untreated.

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    Causes

    Retinal necrosis can be caused by certain viruses, but other underlying eye conditions are also associated with causing the infection, as well as certain conditions of the head. Some pathogens are also known to cause the eye infection. Many patients with the infection have herpes simplex virus 1 or herpes simplex virus 2 that has remained dormant. It remains unclear exactly how the viruses cause retinal necrosis syndrome.

    Although this condition can occur in anyone, patients who are 20 to 50 years of age have the highest risk for developing the infection. When herpes simplex 2 is the cause of the infection, though, the average age of those infected drops to about 20. When other viruses are the cause of the infection, the average range falls to between 47 and 57 years of age. This condition appears to occur more often in males than females, but it remains unclear why this is the case. Race appears to play no role in the risk for the infection.

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    Symptoms

    Symptoms of this eye infection can range from pain around the eyes to blindness. Uveitis and vitritis can occur as well. In fact, it is estimated that almost 6 percent of cases with the infection will develop uveitis over a ten year period. Common symptoms include an inflammation surrounding the retinal blood vessels, reduced vision and loss of vision. Blurred vision can also develop, as well as sensitivity to light. Red and hazy eyes are other common symptoms. These symptoms can occur in one or both eyes and can vary in severity.

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    Diagnosis and Treatment

    In order to properly diagnose the infection, certain tests are conducted. In some cases, home eye tests may also be used. Proper diagnosis is critical, because the infection can sometimes be misdiagnosed. Common misdiagnoses for the condition include age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts.

    After the diagnosis is complete, treatment can begin. Treatment involves the use of topical steroids and dilating eye drops. In some cases, intravenous steroids may be used. IV acyclovir and hospitalization may be needed, in severe cases. Treatment for the infection is essential because, in some cases, if left untreated, retinal detachment and blindness can occur. In 75 percent of cases, retinal detachment occurs, which requires immediate treatment. Unfortunately, this infection is the leading cause of legal blindness in the United States.

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