What is pink eye?

Pink eye—or conjunctivitis—is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the outermost layer of the eye that covers the white part of the eye called the sclera. This outermost layer helps with lubrication of the eye by producing tears and mucus, and also helps to prevent microbes from entering the eye.  When the conjunctiva is swollen and red, it means that it was irritated and infected. Many people do not even treat this infection due to the fact that goes away in 7 to 10 days without any treatment, but it is very common, and can be contagious. On the other hand, the fact that one has it means that his or her overall immune system is weakened.

What types of pink eye can one have?

Viral pink eye, which is very contagious, is caused by a virus; in particular the adenovirus. This is a common respiratory virus that can also cause sore throat and some of the upper respiratory infections.  The herpes virus can also cause viral pink eye, which may last up to 3 weeks and become chronic. When it is not treated, it will clear up on its own after 5 to 7 days. For some of the viruses that cause viral pink eye there is no particular medical treatment, but the problem is bigger since it can easily spread.

Bacterial pink eye, caused by bacteria, is very contagious and spreads easily as well. It happens when bacteria enter the eye or the area around the eye. Common infections such as staph infection, cat-scratch disease, gonorrhoea  and haemophilus influenza type B can cause bacterial pink eye. Bacterial infections last up to 10 days when untreated can cause serious drainage.

Allergic pink eye is the infection caused by pollen, dust, or animal dander. These allergies can be seasonal (such as with pollen), and although this type of pink eye is not contagious, it can be very unpleasant because it can affect both eyes.

What symptoms can we expect from different types of pink eye?

Symptoms of viral pink eye

• Swelling of the eyelids
• Redness in the white of the eye
• A lot of tearing
• Swollen areas in front of the ears
• Burning feeling of the eyelids
• Itching
• Clear or slightly thick drainage

It can be very serious when one is wearing contact lenses, and have vision in only one eye, and also when the immune system is impaired. There are no medicines that can treat viral pink eye, so home remedies are the best solution. Although very unpleasant, people can return to work or school usually in 3 to 5 days when symptoms begin to improve.

Symptoms of bacterial pink eye

• Redness in the white of the eye
• Mild pain
• Drainage form the eye, usually gray or yellow

• Eyelashes may stick together due to the drainage
• Swelling of the upper eyelid
• Bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics, and people can return to day care, work, or school even 24 hours after the antibiotic treatment.

Symptoms of allergic pink eye

• Itching
• Runny nose and stuffiness
• Burning feeling of the eyelids
• Mild drainage

One can usually find allergy medications for this pink eye, but sometimes the treatment must be preventative.

What to do when pink eye occurs?

Although many opt for medications and antibiotics, there are natural ways to treat these infections.

Barberry plant

Berberis vulgaris or mountain grape is a plant that has a long history of usage as folk remedy. It is famous in treating digestive disorders, infections, indigestion, and urinary tract infections. The plant has numerous benefits due to the powerful ingredients. Berberine, isoquinolone alkaloid found in root, stem bark, and rhizome, effectively fight bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections. As a remedy, it is perfect as eyewash. One should boil it in water, and let it cool before rinsing eyes with it. Another solution is a poultice with a few drops of water, on a closed eye.

Boric acid

This acid, also called hydrogen borate, is a weak acid of boron that is used as an antiseptic for minor burns and cuts. As an antibacterial compound, it is common for acne treatment, ear infection, and Athlete’s foot. For pink eye, boric acid mixed with water is a great eyewash.

Honey

Honey is powerful due to its antibacterial and antibiotic properties. When mixed with water or milk, it can be very effective remedy for conjunctivitis. One can put honey directly on eyes, or make an eyewash from 3 tablespoons of honey and 2 cups of water. After boiling, stir it and when it cools, use it as an eyewash several times a day. You can replace water with milk for the same treatment. Warm milk can be also used as an eyewash or a compress.

Potato

One can use raw potato and place it on the eye several times a day. When used often, potato can reduce the swelling due to its astringent properties.

Goldenseal

This perennial plant has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and astringent properties. Goldenseal also contains berberine that fights  infection, and kills the bacteria that cause conjunctivitis. To make a warm solution one needs 2 teaspoons of goldenseal and a cup of boiled water. For eye drops, mix chamomile, comfrey, 1/8 teaspoon of goldenseal, and a cup of boiled water. It should steep for 15 minutes. After you strain it, use it as eye drops.

Teas

Black and green teas contain bioflavonoids that fight viral and bacterial infections and reduce inflammation. A moist teabag on affected eye for several minutes, 3-4 times a day, will help ease the infection. If possible, use black tea due to the tannis that can reduce inflammation more quickly. For an eyewash, use a weak solution of tea.

Probiotics

Probiotics are powerful because they fight and kill “bad” bacteria that cause the infection, by increasing the number of “good” bacteria in the infected area. Popular probiotics are colostrums (breast milk) and kefir. Hot compresses can help with drainage and dry secretions. For this purpose, take a washcloth, run it under warm water and apply to the eye for 5 minutes. A cold compress will help with itching, swelling, and burning sensation. Sterile gauze soaked in water and placed in the freezer for 30 minutes will have an incredible soothing effect.

Ways to prevent pink eye

• Avoid rubbing and touching your eyes
• Wash your hands frequently
• Never share personal washcloths, tissues, or hand towels

WikiHow has a good how-to on ease the eyestrain and keep the eye healthy: How to Exercise Your Eyes

Featured photo credit: Three Year Old Little Girl With Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye) via Shutterstock

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