Conan O'Brien Reveals 'Very Painful' Viral Infection That Nearly Left Him Blind

For almost three decades, Conan O'Brien has been known to make audiences laugh thanks to his sharp wit and clever disposition. But it was early on in his career that things could have taken a turn for the worst after the comedian faced an alarming medical crisis that nearly left him blind. While chatting with Will & Grace star Sean Hayes and Dr. Priyanka Wali for their podcast, HypochrondriActor now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, O'Brien revealed his struggle with ocular shingles, admitting he had no idea what was happening to him at the time. 

Sharing how a "lot of stress" prefaced the medical event that happened around 1987, O'Brien discloses he was "very worried" about his career and experiencing a bit of anxiety over what was ahead. "I was working on a bunch of things at the same time, very highly stressed, and I started to feel this slight, almost like a needle, but a tiny little pinprick behind my right eye," he said.

Admitting it wasn't "too painful" at first, O'Brien shares with Hayes and Wali that the issue became worse, turning into terrible headaches that left him with much pain behind his right eye. O'Brien soon realized he had shingles on the optic nerve behind the aforementioned eye, leaving him with a burning sensation that left his right side inflamed and red. "[It] looked almost like I had been burned and was popping up," he said, later adding how the difference between his right and left was truly significant. "It's as if, if you had asked an architect or a carpenter or a graphic artist to draw an exact line down the middle of my face, exactly down the middle of my nose and down my chin, the right side was all messed up and the left side was fine."

As Hayes teases O'Brien that it was reminiscent of Two-Face from Batman, Wali clarifies the terminology and shares how the iconic comedian's fifth cranial nerve, also known as the facial nerve, was affected. "It's one of the branches of the facial nerve that are the optic nerve is actually the second cranial nerve and that's internal," she said. O'Brien, who admits he is not a complainer, was baffled by the medical incident and noticed a change almost 12 hours later that left him in "really bad pain," which left his right eye completely closed.

While the comedian had resisted the hospital at first because of his father being a doctor and many denying anything this bad could occur, Wali reveals though it is rare to happen that young — in O'Brien's case, being in his early 20s — the virus was living dormant in his nervous system. Eventually, O'Brien did get help and was treated with "some kind of injection" that "anesthetized some nerve." It was at that moment the comedian revealed the pain had just turned off almost immediately. Never having another instance again, O'Brien further states he was baffled the "shingles resolved itself" but ended up taking preventive measures by getting the shingles vaccine when he got older, which hurt for a day and a half. "Get the shingles vaccine. You do not want shingles," he said of the sight-threatening virus, to which Wali adds," the pain of the vaccine is less than the pain of getting shingles itself."


Dr. Wali goes into depth with her co-host Hayes about the shingles vaccine and the treatment O'Brien eventually received more in-depth in the episode, which can be streamed on Apple Podcasts and Spotify