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Primarily caused by infection or allergy, conjunctivitis, better known as "pink eye," is the most common form of eye irritation. It is an inflammation of the white of the eye and eyelid lining, or, technically, inflammation of the conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that lines the inner eyelids and sheaths the globe of the eye. When the eye becomes irritated or infected, the tiny blood vessels dilate and turn red.
• redness in the eye
The eyes are red and swollen and seem to be filled with sand. Before you treat conjunctivitis, rule out other eye problems with similar symptoms, such as allergies, irritation from chemicals (especially chlorine in pools), and exposure to cigarette smoke and smog. Generally, mild cases of conjunctivitis should go away in several days without treatment; however, it may be uncomfortable, so the remedies discussed below should prove helpful.
• Bacterial (staph or strep), usually from hand-to-eye contact, and viral infections associated with a cold, sore throat, cold sore or measles, are causes for most conjunctivitis. Viral conjunctivitis tends to clear up of its own accord. Bacterial conjunctivitis produces a yellowish discharge that becomes crusty when you sleep. If the bacterial infection doesn't clear up after four days of using the compresses and other remedies listed below consult your doctor.
• Overuse of nonprescription eyedrops used to soothe your eyes has recently been discovered as one of the triggers of conjunctivitis. Many over-the-counter eyedrops contain decongestants that help shrink swollen blood vessels in the eyes. Allergic reaction to these ingredients can trigger conjunctivitis. With continued use, you may experience a "rebound" effect, where your eyes will get redder and sorer - just the opposite of what you are trying to do. Look for an alternative without the decongestants, preferably saline drops, also known as "artificial tears."
• A deficiency of vitamin A may leave you more susceptible to infections and other eye problems.
• Allergies can cause persistent eye irritation. If you get conjunctivitis frequently, it is most likely an allergy, usually from certain foods. Modifying your diet will help both conditions. Conjunctivitis caused by allergies will cause puffy eyelids and leave the eyes red, with a gritty feeling, but there will be no discharge.
• Allergic rhinitis, can be seasonal (hay fever), due to pollen, or year-round, due to house dust, molds or pets. Having itchy, watery eyes, and stringy (clear, not crusty) pus are common symptoms. The eyelids are often swollen. In this case, use an antihistamine and a cool compress to relieve the itching.
• Contact lens use may be a cause of infection. The lenses may trap particles in the eye or the lenses may be worn too long, causing irritation. Poor hygiene may cause infection, so make sure you follow proper storage procedures and clean your lenses very well and wash your hands before touching your lenses. Some people are allergic to contact lens cleaning solutions, especially those containing the preservative Thiomersal.
• Certain illnesses, such as measles, may trigger conjunctivitis.
• Some sexually transmitted diseases can cause conjunctivitis.
• The inside of the eyelids may develop bumps which cause irritation and the eyes will become bloodshot. There may be a feeling that there is a foreign body in your eye.
• Foreign substance in the eye.
• Cosmetics, such as mascara.
• Injury to the eye.Tips
• Conjunctivitis is highly contagious, so don't share towels, pillows, or washcloths with someone else.
• Change your pillowcase frequently.
• If you get conjunctivitis or other eye irritations frequently, we suggest you boost your immune system to help ward off infections.
• Wash towels and bedding frequently.
• Needless to say, keep your fingers out of your eyes!
• Wash your hands before and after touching your eyes, preferably with antibacterial soap.
• If the conjunctivitis comes at the same time as a cold sore, check with your doctor to make sure the herpes virus has not infected your eye. This is very important.
• If you use makeup, discard any you were using when you got conjunctivitis, as it is probably contaminated and is an easy way to spread it to your other eye.
• Look for berberine as an ingredient in herbal or commercial eyewashes. It is antibacterial and is quite effective against both staph and strep infections, two major causes of conjunctivitis.
• If you normally wear contact lenses, switching to glasses will help the infection clear up faster. The contacts hold the germs in the eye and are also irritating to the eye.
• If you go out in bright sunlight, wear sunglasses. Sunlight irritates pink eye.
Supplements and the Immune System
As with any infection, you will need to enhance your immune system to fight the infection. You may want to take the following supplements:
PCO, also known as OPC, (oligomeric proanthocyanidin) is a very powerful antioxidant derived from pine bark needles or grape seeds. It works as an anti-inflammatory and against allergic reactions. When taken with vitamin C, the PCO enhances its effectiveness. The PCO will enhance healthy tissue growth. Take 100 mg 2x daily.
Vitamin A 100,000 IU daily for up to a month (do not exceed 10,000 IU if you are pregnant). This will enhance your immune system.
Vitamin C 2-6,000 mg daily in divided doses. Vitamin C promotes healing.
Zinc 50 mg daily. Also enhances the immune system.
The best approach to treat conjunctivitis is to keep the eye as clean as possible and wash the infection away using one of the eyewashes mentioned below. It may take a few days, but following these tips should clear it up.
Eyewashes & Compresses
Boil the water for 10 minutes to sterilize it, then follow the directions for making an eyewash. Be sure to sterilize the eyecup or eyedropper for 10 minutes in boiling water before each use. Also, do not use either the eyecup or the eyewash in both eyes; use fresh eyewash and sterilize the eyecup again. Conjunctivitis is very contagious, so you must take all precautions to keep from spreading it. Using one of the eyewash remedies below, strain the mixture through a coffee filter, a gauze pad or cheesecloth. Put the eyewash into the eyecup and lower your eye to the cup; roll your eye around and blink so that the wash will coat the entire eye. Keep the eye immersed for a minute.
• Using a compress will soothe the eye. To make a compress, use a cotton pad or very clean cloth. Choose a remedy discussed below and apply a compress for at least 10 minutes as often as needed.
CAUTION: You may have an eye condition called iritis or uveitis, an inflammation of the iris. Do this simple test to see if you have conjunctivitis or iritis: cover the inflamed eye with your hand and shine a penlight or flashlight directly in to your good eye for three seconds. If you do not feel any pain, you probably have pinkeye. If you do feel pain in your covered eye, you probably have iritis and should see your doctor at once. By shining the light in to your good eye, the pupils of both eyes will contract, and pain will generally indicate that you have iritis.
See Your Doctor When...
• If you don't have iritis and your problem continues for three or four days with little improvement. Conjunctivitis can lead to potentially serious eye damage.
Conjunctivitis should clear up by itself in a few days to two weeks, depending on the cause and severity. The remedies listed below will soothe the pain and itching and speed the healing process.
Using aromatherapy oils will promote healing and help draw out the infection.
Chamomile oil Make a warm compress with a few drops.
Lavender oil Make a warm compress with a few drops.
Rose oil Make a warm compress with a few drops.
Aloe Soak a cloth with aloe vera juice and place it over the eyes. Can also be used as an eyewash.
Artificial tears These drops will soothe the eye and help flush it out.
Baking soda Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 1/2 cup of water. This makes a soothing eyewash.
Barberry tea Make a tea using 1/2 teaspoon of powdered root bark in one cup of water. Boil for 15-30 minutes and use as an eyewash or with a compress. Barberry has berberine, the antibacterial compound described above.
Boric acid Use a boric acid eyewash. Make a solution of one quart of boiled water and one tablespoon of boric acid; allow to cool; use with a clean washcloth or cotton ball three or four times daily; allow to dry, then rinse gently.
Bread Apply cold bread to closed eyes to reduce the inflammation and soothe itching.
Castor oil Put one drop in the eye three times a day.
Chamomile Add 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers to 1 cup of boiled water. Steep for 5 minutes, strain, let cool, and use as an eyewash. May also be made into a compress.
• Steep equal parts of chamomile and eyebright in boiling water, cool, and use as an eyewash.
• Add 12 drops of tincture of chamomile to 1 cup of boiled water, cool, and use as an eyewash.
Colloidal silver Use a drop or two in the infected eye, or dilute a few drops in water and use as an eyewash. Colloidal silver is a natural antibiotic and has safely been used for a century. It should clear up the infection quickly.
Elderberry Use elderberry blossom tea as an eyewash.
Elderflower Make a strong infusion and use as a compress. Fresh leaves placed over the eye and held in place with a bandage may also be used.
Eyebright Eyebright has been used for hundreds of years for a variety of eye problems. It has astringent and antibacterial properties, and is soothing to the eyes. Make an infusion using one teaspoon of dried herb in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Cool, strain, and use as an eyewash. Do this 3-4 times a day. May also be used as a compress.
• Put three drops of eyebright tincture in a tablespoon of boiled water. When cool, use as an eyewash.
Fennel Boil fennel seeds and use as an eyewash.
Goldenseal This herb is especially beneficial if the conjunctivitis is caused by an infection. It is believed that the berberine in goldenseal is the active ingredient that fights infections. It can kill staph and strep bacteria, each of which may be a cause of conjunctivitis. Make a solution using 2 teaspoons of the herb to a cup of boiled water and use for a warm compress. May also be used as eyedrops, 2-3 drops, three times daily.
• Another method is to mix 1/8 teaspoon each of goldenseal, comfrey and chamomile, add to one cup of boiled water and steep for 15 minutes; strain. Use as eyedrops.
Honey You may either put a drop or two of honey directly on your eyes or put three tablespoons in 2 cups of boiling water, stir to dissolve, let it cool, then use as an eyewash several times a day. The honey has antibacterial properties and unpasteurized honey has antibiotic properties. Honey will soothe the eye and promote healing.
• Honey/eyebright Pour 3/4 pint of boiling water over a handful of eyebright flowers and leaves, cover and let stand until lukewarm; strain; add 3 tablespoons of honey and stir until dissolved. Soak cotton or other very clean cloth in the mixture and place on the eye for 15-20 minutes. Make sure to keep the cotton or cloth moist. This mixture may also be used to wash the eyes several times a day. Milk may be substituted for the water.
Milk Use warm(tepid) milk as an eyewash or as a compress.
Potato Grate a potato and place on the eye. It is an astringent and will help reduce the inflammation. The potato may also be made into a poultice and placed over the eye for 15 minutes. Do this for three successive nights.
Slippery elm Make a poultice of slippery elm powder and place on the inflamed eye.
Tea Tea contains bioflavonoids that fight viral and bacterial infections and can help reduce inflammation. Put a moist teabag of eyebright tea on the affected eye for several minutes. Repeat several times a day. If your eye is swollen, moisten the teabag with cool water. The tannic acid in the tea will soothe the itching.
• Use a green or black teabag. Black tea has more tannins that help reduce the inflammation.
Turmeric Make a solution using 2 teaspoons of turmeric to a cup of boiled water and use for a warm compress.
Water Washing the eyes several times a day with cool water will soothe the inflammation.
Yarrow Yarrow is astringent, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory. Make an eyewash by steeping 1 teaspoon of yarrow in a cup of water for 5-10 minutes; cool and use in a compress.
Yogurt Apply a poultice made from live yogurt culture daily. This will help reduce inflammation.
You may take the following specific remedies every hour for up to 10 doses a day, unless otherwise noted.
Aconite 30c Use if symptoms come on after injury or exposure to cold. The eye will be red and inflamed, feel hot and dry and seem like grit has gotten into it.
Apis is used when the eyeball seems burning, appears red and swollen, and filled with fluid, but feels better with a cold compress.
Argentum nit. 6c Use when there is a fair amount of discharge and the membranes surrounding the eyes are red and swollen.
Argentum nit. 30c (twice a day) or 12x (four times a day).
Arsenicum album 30c (twice a day) or 12x (four times a day). This remedy is used if there is a burning sensation with a clear discharge, or if the eyes are sensitive to light with swelling around the eyes.
Belladonna 30c (twice a day) or 12x (four times a day). Use this remedy if the problem has come on rapidly, with red, swollen, burning eyelids, and the eyes are dry and very sensitive to light. There will not be much discharge.
Euphrasia 6c Use if there is little or no discharge, and is good for burning, itchy eyes. You may also make a soothing eyewash by using 10 drops of Euphrasia tincture and 1 teaspoon of salt in one-half pint of warm water. Use as an eyewash every four hours, but not more than four times a day.
Hep.sulf. is useful to draw out infection. Take on waking on alternate days with Pulsatilla.
Optique remedy by Boiron. Take as directed.
Pulsatilla 30c (twice a day) or 12x (four times a day). This remedy is used when there is a thick, yellow-green discharge from the eyes and the eye is swollen and sore.
Sulphur 30c (twice a day) or 12x (four times a day). Use this remedy when there are burning pains and redness around the eyes. There is usually a yellowish discharge.