Eye infections are a common occurrence, especially during seasonal changes. As the weather gets drier and colder, so does the incidence of eye infections.
There is an increased susceptibility to allergy, common cold virus, and bacteria that are usually responsible for these eye infections. These eye infections occur at any age but are especially common in children as they are most exposed.
Exposure to allergens is the most common cause of these eye infections. Allergens such as smoke, fumes, dust, pollen, and chlorine from the swimming pool have been implicated in eye contamination. In the tropics, the dry atmosphere is usually accompanied by high temperatures.
Thus, children and adults tend to spend a lot of time in the pool and get exposed to chemicals like chlorine. Viruses and bacteria are the other common causes.
Common symptoms of eye infections
- Red eyes which are known clinically as erythema
- Local pruritus-itchiness
- Swelling of the eyelid
- Eye discharge (clear or colored)
- Blurred vision
- Eye sensitivity
- Dry eyes
- Watery eyes
Common eye infections include
- Corneal ulceration
The majority of these eye infections are self-limiting i.e, they resolve on their own without medical intervention within a few days or weeks. However, they can be very uncomfortable and even painful a time. Hence, managing the symptoms is needed.
The need for prescription medications is usually not required, especially at the early stage, as simple home remedies are very helpful and cost-effective. Also, as mentioned earlier, allergy plays a vital role in these infections.
So avoiding exposure to allergens can go a long way in preventing these infections. Helpful home remedies for different eye infections are discussed below.
Blepharitis, Chalazion, and Stye
Blepharitis is inflammation of the margin of the eyelid usually caused by an allergy but may also be caused by bacteria (ulcerative blepharitis). It is usually not contagious and manifests as greasy eyelid and lashes, blurred vision, redness, itchiness, swelling of the eyelid, watery eyes, sticky eyes.
Sticky eyes are easily noticed in children first thing in the morning as it’s usually hard to open the eyes because of the hardened discharge around the eyelashes.
Blepharitis is associated with complications such as loss of eyelashes or irregular eyelash growth, chalazion, and stye.
Chalazion (and stye) is a meibomian cyst or lump on the eyelid or its margin due to gland blockage or infection of the oil gland in stye. Like blepharitis, it is not contagious and is more common in adults than children.
Chalazion should never be mistaken for stye as they are two different conditions, though they have a similar appearance (small lumps). A distinction between the two conditions is where chalazion is painless. A stye is very painful.
Home remedies to manage blepharitis, chalazion, and stye.
These three eye conditions are usually managed similarly because the major goal here is to free the blocked oil glands.
Note- avoid popping the pimple that appears in chalazion and stye as this will worsen and spread the infection. Instead, free up the oil gland by doing the following.
There are three key things to do here; warm compress, eye massage, and cleaning.
The heat from the compress will help increase blood circulation in the eye area and thus promote healing. It will also help to loosen and soften secretions around the eyes.
How to do a warm compress
- First thing, wash your hand to avoid introducing more contaminants into the eye.
- Then get a clean lint-free towel or washcloth (preferably white) and soak in warm water for a minute.
- Remove the cloth and wring out excess water.
- Place the warm cloth on the closed lid of the affected eye(while lying down) for about 5 minutes or till it cools.
- Repeat the procedure a few more times.
- If both eyes are affected, use a different washcloth for each. Though these eye conditions are not contagious, do not allow any used washcloth to come in contact with the unaffected eye.
- Use this treatment several times a day for best result till you feel better.
- Always wash and dry the used towel before the next use.
This should be done immediately after the warm compress. If properly done, it can help push out oily secretion from oil glands towards the eyelid.
How to properly massage the eye
- Close the eyelid of the affected eye.
- Use your clean fingers to gently but firmly massage the upper lid sweeping downward to help shift the excess secretions toward the eyelashes.
- Then move to the lower eyelid and repeat the same massaging procedure while gently pull the skin upward here.
Cleaning the eyelid
This will help to clear the oily secretions formed on the lid after warm compress and massage and thus prevent the eyes from sticking together.
A typical way of cleaning the eye
- Add a little quantity of mild shampoo to clean water in a bowl. The ratio of shampoo to water should be 1:10.
- Dip a cotton bud in it and squeeze out excess liquid.
- Standing in front of the mirror, gently swipe the cotton bud on the upper eyelid, taking care not to poke the eye in the process.
- Dispose of the cotton bud and dip another into the prepared solution.
- Squeeze out excess fluid to avoid getting the solution in your eyes.
- Then swipe the lower eyelid with it.
- Don’t forget to dispose of the used cotton buds properly.
Note- only use mild shampoos as any other with a stronger detergent can further irritate the eyes. To be safe, I would go for baby shampoo.
When do I need to see a doctor?
- If your blepharitis is caused by bacteria (ulcerative blepharitis), you might need to see a doctor about getting topical antibiotics. Ulcerative blepharitis usually exudes thick waxy, yellowish/greenish discharge.
- If your symptoms persist for longer than two weeks.
- If there is recurrence after a period of relief, you need to see your doctor for examination. In some cases of stye, a biopsy might need to be carried out on the sample gotten from the pimple to see if there is a more serious underlying condition.
Lastly, on blepharitis, stye, and chalazion, some studies claim that taking diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids will help improve the functioning of the meibomian gland and thus unclog the oil glands.
Examples of diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids include fish and other seafood, nuts, and seeds such as walnut, flaxseed. Also, plant oils such as canola oil, flaxseed oil, and soybean oil are a rich dietary source of omega-3 fatty acid.
Conjunctivitis (also called pink eye or eye flu)
This is an inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the white of the eye and lines the inner eyelid.
It can affect one or both eyes and is a very contagious infection. The noticeable symptoms of this condition include;
- Pink/red eye
- Watery eye
- Eye sensitivity/pain
The most common causes of conjunctivitis are allergies, virus, and rarely bacterial infections.
During the dry season, there is an increased spread of pollutants and a higher risk of getting a pink eye. This is especially common with children in daycare settings. This should not be confused with a blocked tear duct, which is common in the newborn as both conditions have similar symptoms.
The virus implicated in conjunctivitis is the same as the one that causes common cold (adenovirus); hence, the name “eye flu”. Most viral conjunctivitis occurs concurrently with cold or after recent flu. However, it can also be caused by other viruses.
Bacteria rarely cause conjunctivitis, but when it happens, it can be easily distinguished by the type of discharge produced. Viral conjunctivitis produces clear white discharge. Bacterial conjunctivitis produces purulent colored discharge. Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria responds to antibiotics, while those caused by the virus do not.
In most cases, conjunctivitis does not require medications and is usually allowed to run its course till the body’s natural defense kick in. However, this can be very uncomfortable hence the need for simple home remedies. The following remedies have been proven to help with associated symptoms.
Home remedies for conjunctivitis
The most crucial practice here is good eye hygiene; keeping the eye clean at all times is essential. Check under blepharitis for how to properly clean the eye. Effective home remedies for managing conjunctivitis include;
Use of honey
Honey is a powerful antioxidant and antibacterial agent that helps to promote healing in a variety of cases, including conjunctivitis. Using honey as an eyewash helps reduce redness and eventually clear the eyes
How to use honey eyewash
- Add previously boiled and cooled water to a clean cup.
- Then introduce equal part honey in it and stir.
- Use this solution as an eyewash on the affected eye by placing an open eye on the rim of the cup and slightly tilting the cup so the solution can touch the eye.
- Keep the eye open to the solution for at least 30-60 seconds.
- Afterward, tilt the head back to allow the solution more time to act.
- Repeat twice or thrice a day for optimum results. Always prepare a fresh solution each time.
Note- if it’s only one eye that is affected, keep the procedure away from the other. If both eyes are affected, prepare different solutions for each eye. This helps to prevent cross-contamination.
Adding a drop of the viscous honey directly into the eye will also help clear conjunctivitis through natural tearing. Ensure the honey drop being used doesn’t have particles in it, as this can further irritate the eye.
Tea bag compress
The tea plant is an excellent antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation. As a result, it’s useful in conjunctivitis management.
Tea contains tannin, a powerful antioxidant that helps relax eye muscles and reduce swelling.
How to use a tea bag in conjunctivitis?
- Place one or two bags(if both eyes are involved) in warm water for some time.
- Remove and strain the liquid from the bag.
- Place the tea bag on a closed lid for about 5 minutes.
- Do this twice a day till redness and inflammation subside.
Using potato slice on the eye will help reduce burning sensation and relax eye muscles. This is done by cutting the potato into slices and placing the slice on closed lid for 5 minutes or more.
Jasmine flower extract
Extract gotten from jasmine flower will help reduce irritation and inflammation. The ingredient responsible for its action can be gotten by soaking jasmine in water for at least 12 hours. Since this extract will be used on the eye, ensure only clean water is used. The extract gotten can then be used as an eyewash and/or eyedrop.
Turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory drug because of the curcumin present in it. This is especially useful in conjunctivitis, as reducing inflammation is the goal here.
How can it be used?
- Fill a bowl with two glasses of clean water.
- Add two teaspoon of turmeric powder and mix
- Use this solution as an eyewash twice a day to get relief.
The saltwater solution has an antiseptic property that can help to cleanse the eyes. Simply add a pinch of salt to a glass of warm water and use it to irrigate the eye.
Coriander seed contains lots of vitamins, especially vitamin C, that act as antioxidants and promote healing. It helps to reduce swelling, alleviate pressure from the eye area.
How to use coriander seed?
- Boil the seed in water for about 15 minutes.
- Sieve out the water and allow it to cool.
- Use this solution to wash the eye.
- Use this solution at least once every day.
This is a fiber crop used for the oil because of its antioxidant feature. It helps with the itching sensation in the eyes, reduces pain and inflammation.
How to extract the oil
- Boil a cup of water
- Add a spoonful of flaxseed to the boiled water. Then leave for15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Drain the water, allow to cool, and apply directly to the eyes using cotton wool.
This tea contains a flavonoid that can help with inflammation. Therefore, using extract gotten from this tea can help clear redness and pain associated with chamomile.
As with honey, this treatment should not be used in infants and younger children as it has been linked to botulism.
To prepare this tea
- Boil water and add the tea.
- Strain out the liquid and allow it to cool.
- Use to wash the eye.
- Repeat as needed
It is a mild antifungal and antibacterial agent used for treating eye infection related problems such as redness, dryness, tearing, and burning sensation.
How to make a suitable boric acid solution for the eyes
- Mix a teaspoon of medicinal grade boric acid solution with a cup of water
- Boil the mixture for some minutes. Then allow cooling.
- Sieve out the liquid and use as an eyewash.
- Repeat the procedure about three times a day, making a fresh solution each time.
Aloe vera gel
This is a great soother that relieves pain, inflammation, and stinging sensation associated with conjunctivitis.
Aloe vera doesn’t contain any chemical known to irritate the eye, so this is a great fit for people that are hypersensitive. Applying aloe vera gel every night before bed can be very helpful.
Over the counter eye drops
This is one home remedy you likely already have in your medicine cabinet at home. Using eye drops that lubricate and stimulate natural tear production can be helpful in clearing debris from the eyes.
Just ensure it’s not an antibiotic or any eyedrop used for serious eye conditions as this could mask the real cause of the condition. When applying eye drops, make sure the tip doesn’t come in contact with eyes.
Coconut oil is known to contain vitamins and minerals that prevent itching and redness associated with conjunctivitis. Applying coconut oil on the eyelid will help minimize these effects.
This water is a solution of rose oil in water. It is well known for its antiseptic and antibacterial effect that helps to fight infection.
It is very useful as an eyedrop in conjunctivitis and other eye problems such as cataracts and dry eyes.
Note-some people have reported having an allergic reaction to rose oil. It is therefore advisable to patch test on the inside of your arm 24 hours before use. If there is no sign of allergy, it is safe to apply the water as an eyedrop.
Home remedies for conjunctivitis in babies
When babies come down with conjunctivitis, it’s usually difficult trying to decide which home remedy is safe for use. This is because some of the remedies used in adults and older children might be considered not safe in babies.
For instance, the use of honey in babies under 6-12 months isn’t advisable as it has been linked to botulism.
The use of breast milk is a safe and effective(sworn by mothers ) home remedy that can be used to manage conjunctivitis in babies. Breast milk is known to contain antibodies, particularly immunoglobin E that prevents bacteria from adhering to the mucosal surface of the eyes.
As a result, this helps to limit bacteria growth. Simply using the liquid to clean the eye is one way to go about it. Also, applying a drop into the eyes can help clear the eyes.
How to safely apply breast milk drop into babies’ eye
- First, make sure the milk is collected in a clean cup.
- Then wash your hands.
- While the baby is lying on its back, hold the lower eyelid down to form a pouch.
- With the aid of a clean dropper, dispense a drop of the milk inside the lower eye. Make sure the tip doesn’t touch the eye.
- Then apply gentle pressure on the inner canthus for a minute while the eyes remain closed.
- Apply to the other eyes if infected using the above procedure.
Note- If your baby refuses to keep its eye open for you to apply the drop, you can drop it on the inside of the eyes(inner canthus). Immediately the eyes open, the milk will flow in. However, this isn’t as effective as applying directly to the eye.
Mothers on certain medications shouldn’t do this as some drugs are excreted in breast milk. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist first to know if it is safe.
General advice for people with eye infections
- Keep all items of clothing clean and ironed, especially beddings, as discharge from the eye will frequently stain it. Also, persons infected shouldn’t share beddings and towels to prevent contaminating others.
- Dispose properly of all tissues used to wipe the eyes
- Always wash your hand and reduce hand to eye contact, especially in conjunctivitis. This is to prevent people from getting infected when they touch you or the same things you’ve touched.
- Keep all eye makeup and tool clean at all times and avoid using for too long. During the infection, do not apply any eye makeup, as this can further irritate the eyes.
- Wear sunglasses outside to minimize irritation from sun rays. This isn’t to prevent people who make eye contact from getting infected as popularly thought of in conjunctivitis. This eye infection can only be transmitted through contact.
- Always clean discharge from the eyes to prevent the eyes from getting occluded.
- For those on a contact lens, it’s better to skip it to avoid irritation. It’s properly best you dispose of it as it is already infected and you don’t want to re-infect the eyes.
- Avoid exposure to dust and other pollutants to avoid worsening redness and irritation.
Always remember, any eye infection that you’ve been treating using home remedies for more than a month is long overdue for a doctor’s visit. You need to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Most eye infections managed using home remedies usually resolve on its own within a few days. The home remedy is to help you manage the symptoms and accelerate recovery.
Also, only use one treatment at a time as introducing multiple chemicals into the eyes can further worsen eye irritation and sensitivity.
Finally, if you keep having a relapse after periods of relief, you need to seek medical assistance to be sure your symptoms are not that of a more serious underlying eye condition.