Home Remedies To Treat Pink Eye
If you have pink eye or conjunctivitis, the outer layer covering your eyes, the conjunctiva, is inflamed. It happens either as the body’s reaction to allergens and irritants or, more commonly, as a bacterial and viral infection. Fortunately, a number of sound home remedies can help so things don't get out of hand. They include using warm and cold compresses and remedies such as breast milk and honey. Compresses dipped in water-based solutions containing aloe vera, turmeric, or basil leaves are also quite effective.
Bloodshot eyes, crusty discharge, and general discomfort – pink eye can be quite the downer. So what exactly happens when you have pink eye?
The conjunctiva is a mucous membrane that lines the inside of your eyelids and covers the white part of your eye. This thin layer of tissue is prone to infections and can develop a common eye disease called conjunctivitis – also called “pink eye” or “red eye.” This infection causes redness in the eye and an inflammation of the conjunctiva.
Pink eye may affect one or both eyes. While it usually is a minor infection, there are chances of the infection getting out of hand and causing serious eye problems.1 Conjunctivitis can be triggered by bacteria, virus, or allergens like dust mites, pollen, and some medicines, and cosmetics. A bacterial infection is usually indicated by a thick, crusty discharge, while swollen glands and a watery or mucousy discharge indicate a viral infection. Both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis start in one eye and often spread to the other. When both eyes are affected, accompanied by a lot of itching and a watery discharge, it indicates an allergic cause.2
Simple Home Remedies To Treat Pink Eye
When it comes to the eyes, most people, quite understandably, go to the doctor at the first sign of trouble. The first line of treatment advised by a doctor against pink eye is usually a warm or cold compress to reduce the itching and swelling, and artificial tears to wash out irritants from the eye. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, a doctor may also recommend antibiotics for bacterial conjunctivitis, and antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications for viral conjunctivitis. However, symptoms of conjunctivitis can be tackled with some natural remedies at home.
Take a look at the following natural treatments for pink eye. You will notice that almost all the natural products are used either as an eye wash or in a compress. Please do remember that herbs can sometimes trigger side effects or interact with other herbs and medications. Herbal treatments are best started under the guidance of an expert practitioner.
1. Breast Milk
Traditionally, human breast milk has been used to treat eye infections by people in India, rural Jamaica, and England.3 Breast milk is a probiotic-rich liquid containing a range of antimicrobial proteins like immunoglobins, lysozyme, and lactoferrin, all of which are important components of the body’s immune system.4
How to use
- You can use an eyedropper to administer a drop of milk in the eye. For best results, this process should be repeated as often as possible. In most cases, you’ll see positive results quite soon.
Keep an eye out for: Many swear by this remedy, but there are some questions about its efficiency. While breast milk can inhibit some strains of bacteria that cause conjunctivitis, it was not found to be effective against the bacteria that cause pediatric conjunctivitis.5 In another study, it was observed that while colostrum could inhibit some conjunctivitis-causing bacteria because of its high concentration of antibodies, mature milk did no such thing. In fact, colostrum was found to have half the strength of gentamicin, which is an antibiotic used to treat many bacterial infections.6
The general consensus is that breast milk can cause no harm while the effectiveness may depend on the pathogen that’s responsible for your conjunctivitis. To be safe, consult your doctor to ensure it’s safe to use breast milk in your specific case. This applies especially if you’re looking to treat pediatric conjunctivitis in a child.
Turmeric is a natural antibiotic and its components can help fight inflammation and boost healing.7
How to use
- Include turmeric in your everyday diet to increase your immunity.
- You can also mix it with water for use as an external eye wash.
- For a warm compress, add a tablespoon or two of turmeric to a cup of boiled water. You can then soak a clean cotton pad or a washcloth in the liquid and apply on the eye.8
Keep an eye out for: While turmeric has no side effects as a topical compress, it can cause irritation if it enters the eye. So be careful and keep your eyes gently but firmly closed while using a turmeric compress.
Honey is a rich antimicrobial and antibacterial product and can be applied directly around the eye. It soothes the inflammation and irritation caused by conjunctivitis.
How to use
- Add 3 teaspoons of honey to 2 cups of boiling water. Cool the mix and use it as an eye wash.9
4. Holy Basil Leaves
Tulsi or basil leaves can penetrate deep tissue and dry tissue secretions, aside from working as an antiseptic and fighting inflammation and swelling. It is regarded as one of the most common natural cures for pink eye.10
How to use
- Use tulsi leaves to make tea or eat a few leaves directly as part of your daily routine for good eye health.
- Alternatively, you can soak tulsi leaves in boiled water and use the liquid as an eye wash.
- You can also soak a clean cotton pad or a washcloth in the liquid and use it as a warm compress.11
5. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a super plant with antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Aloe vera extracts contain substances like ethanol and ethyl acetate. These alcohol extracts are capable of modulating cellular functions and properties. As a result, they are often used in eye drops to treat inflammation and other eye-related ailments.12
How to use
- If you do have an aloe vera plant in your backyard, you could just cut off a little piece and apply the juice or the gel around your eye and eyelids. The fresher the gel is, the more potent it can be against the symptoms of pink eye.
- You could also use aloe extracts to make tea. This liquid can then be used either as an eye wash or to soak a clean cotton pad for a warm compress.
- You can even protect your eyes from harmful UV rays by washing them with aloe juice.13
Chamomile is one of the oldest, well-documented, and widely used medicinal plants in the world. Its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties have been used to treat various health problems for centuries. It is also used to treat eye infections and disorders such as conjunctivitis and blocked tear ducts.14
How to use
- Press cool chamomile tea bags on closed eyes for about 10 minutes each, and repeat the process every couple of hours.
- You can also use chamomile tea to wash your eyes. To do that, pour the tea into a commercially available eye-cup and hold it to your eyes.
- Or soak cotton balls in cooled chamomile tea and wipe your eyes often to keep them free of any dirt and reduce irritation.15
Keep an eye out for: Some people are allergic to chamomile. A study of a few conjunctivitis patients found inflammation that worsened after a chamomile eye wash. No such reaction was observed when the tea was consumed. People who are prone to allergies, and especially allergic to the chrysanthemum family, are likely to react to chamomile when it is used for topical treatment. It is best not to use chamomile to treat conjunctivitis in children.16
Eyebright has long been used traditionally to treat conjunctivitis and inflammatory conditions affecting the eyelids. It can help fight infection and also dry up any excess fluid. Further, watery solutions of the herb show antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.17
How to use
- Boil a cup of water and steep a teaspoon of eyebright for 5–10 minutes. Soak cotton balls, a clean cloth, or gauze pads in the cooled tea and use as a compress 3–4 times a day.
- Take an eye-cup or sterile dropper to use the tea as an eye wash.18
Coriander is rich in vitamin A and C and has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. It is a good disinfectant too. Using dried coriander leaves in an eyewash can help relieve swelling, burning, and pain, and reduce discharge.19
How to use
- Take a cup of dried coriander leaves and steep for about 5 minutes in 2 cups of boiled water. Strain the herbs and cool the liquid.
- Use the liquid as an eye wash three times a day to soothe the inflammation and reduce pain.20
Fennel extracts have traditionally been used to treat conjunctivitis and other inflammatory conditions affecting the eyelid. The essential oils and extracts of fennel seeds have antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and can help fight infection.21
How to use
- Boil a cup of water and steep a teaspoon of fennel seeds in it for 5–10 minutes.
- Cool the tea and use as a compress or an eye wash 3–4 times a day.22
Watery extracts of marigold have high antioxidant properties and can fight inflammation, bacteria, and viruses.23 Using marigold flowers as an eye wash or compress can soothe irritation during conjunctivitis.
How to use
- Boil a cup of water and steep a teaspoon of dried marigold flowers for 5–10 minutes.
- Cool the tea and use as a compress 3–4 times a day.
- It can also be used as an eye wash.24
Plantain leaves have long been used in traditional medicine the world over to treat a variety of conditions, including infections. Extracts have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunomodulating properties, among a host of other properties, that have made its use popular in folk medicine.25 The fresh leaves of the plantain have a soothing effect which can come in handy during conjunctivitis.
How to use
- Boil a cup of water and steep a spoon of cut plantain leaves for 5–10 minutes.
- Cool the tea and use as a compress 3–4 times a day.
- It can also be used as an eye wash.26
Keep an eye out for: Some people may be allergic to plantain, especially in areas with a temperate climate. People prone to allergies should be cautious.27
12. Vegetable And Fruit Juices
Drinking raw vegetable juices made from carrot and spinach have been found to be effective against fighting conjunctivitis from within. A mix of Indian gooseberry juice and honey can be consumed too.
How to use
- Prepare a mixed juice with 300 ml of carrot juice and 200 ml of spinach. Drink a cup twice a day until your infection subsides. Else, add 2 teaspoons of honey to a cup of Indian gooseberry juice and drink twice a day.28
Since potatoes have astringent properties, it can help to dry, disinfect, and reduce inflammation caused by conjunctivitis.
How to use
- Peel a potato and cut into thin slices. Place the slices on the affected eye. Repeat for 3 consecutive nights for best results.
- You can also make a poultice by grating the potato and wrapping it in cheesecloth. Place the poultice on the affected eye for at least 20 minutes for best results.29
14. Homeopathic Remedies
A professional homeopath will analyze your physical, psychological, and emotional makeup in addition to your body constitution before recommending any medication. Listed below are some of the common homeopathic remedies for various symptoms of conjunctivitis.
- Apis mellifica: This medication is recommended for patients with swollen, red, and burning eyes. They tend to feel better with cold compresses.
- Argentum nitricum: This is suggested to patients who complain of severe eye pain and have swollen and red eyes with pus-like discharge.
- Belladonna: This is usually used during the early stages of conjunctivitis by patients who have swollen eyelids and bloodshot eyes, are sensitive to light, and complain of burning sensation in the eyes.
- Euphrasia: This is recommended to patients who have watery tears that may become a thick discharge. The patient may also complain of a gritty and dry sensation in the eyes.
- Pulsatilla: Conjunctivitis patients sometimes have mood swings and become irritable too. In such cases, this is the recommended medication. It also helps patients with itchy eyes, a yellowish green discharge, and eyelids that stick together. A cold compress works well in such situations.
- Sulfur: This is used on conjunctivitis patients who complain of feeling unusually hot and thirsty. It also helps with redness, burning, and pain in the eyes. The eyes stick together and there may be a yellow discharge accompanied by a foul odor.30
Things To Remember While Using Home Remedies
Using natural remedies for conjunctivitis can help by reducing the pain and keeping your eyes free of drainage. A warm compress helps reduce the sticky build up of discharge on your eyelids, formation of crust on your eyelashes, and any redness and swelling. It works best for relief from infective conjunctivitis. On the other hand, a cold compress provides relief from itching and inflammation in the eye. It is recommended for allergic and irritative conjunctivitis.
If only one eye is infected, it’s critical that you avoid touching both eyes with the same cloth. This is to prevent the infection from spreading to the other eye. If you’re experiencing pink eye symptoms because of an allergy, avoid rubbing your eyes at all costs as there’s every chance that your infection can worsen.31
Rinsing your eyes is another tried and tested method to alleviate symptoms of conjunctivitis. When you’re exposed to allergens, your body releases histamines. Consequently, your eyes can develop redness, tears, and an itchy sensation. For pink eye caused by mild irritants, like shampoo or perfume, the best step forward is to rinse your eye with cold or lukewarm water immediately. This process should be carried out for at least 5 minutes for relief from discomfort.32
Conjunctivitis In Newborns
When a newborn baby shows symptoms of conjunctivitis, don’t wait to see a doctor. Neonatal conjunctivitis can be caused by a blocked tear duct, irritation caused by antimicrobials given at birth, or a virus or bacteria passed to the baby from the mother during childbirth. If the trigger is an infection, the condition can get quite serious. A newborn’s conjunctivitis is best treated under medical guidance. The only home remedy advisable is a warm compress between the eye and nasal area to clear a blocked tear duct or any irritation and swelling.33 Freshly expressed breast milk can also be used to bathe the affected eye.34
How You Can Stop The Spread Of Pink Eye
Pink eye caused by a bacterial or a viral infection is extremely contagious. The infection can spread quickly and easily from one person to another. On the flip side, pink eye caused by allergens and irritants aren’t contagious, but there’s a very real possibility of you developing a secondary infection because of contagious virus or bacteria. Taking a few simple preventative measures can certainly reduce the risk of your eyes getting infected.
- The most important self-care step is to wash your hands before and after touching your eyes, whether it is to drain the eyes or to apply any medication.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes as you could end up irritating them further and worsening your infection.
- Don’t use the same cold or warm compress more than once and make sure that you use a different compress for each eye.
- Any towels, washcloths, linens or pillow cases that you use shouldn’t be shared. Remember to wash them once the infection is cured.
- Avoid using window fans as they can draw pollens and mold into your house. You can also wear sunglasses or any protective eyewear when you step outside to minimize the chances of any irritants from getting in your eyes.35
- Sharing makeup, contacts, or any eyewear is an absolute no-no! Don’t even wear contacts when you have an eye infection. Any makeup products, contacts, or eyewear that you did use when you had an infection should be disposed of in a responsible manner.36
When Should You See A Doctor
In most cases, conjunctivitis is a mild condition and clears up within a week or so. If your eye infection persists for more than a week in spite of you trying out proven natural remedies, it could be time for you to seek medical attention. Other symptoms that should make you seek immediate medical advice are pain in the eyes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, intense redness, or if you are undergoing treatment for serious ailments such as cancer or HIV. Go to a doctor if you have any pre-existing eye condition to prevent further complications.37
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