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The eyes are the windows to the world and need to be protected as such. They are extremely delicate, but they have natural mechanisms to protect them from damage.
The constant blinking of the eyelashes keeps dust, debris, and other irritants from entering the eye. If something does get inside, it will overstimulate the tear glands to make your eyes water and flush out the foreign body.
However, inadequate eye hygiene can lead to the buildup of impurities, dead cells, and germs around the eye, which can block your tear ducts and trigger an infection.
Your eyelashes trap a lot of dust and debris regularly. Plus, they naturally release some degree of tears and sebum, which may collect in the corners. The skin around the eyes also sheds dead cells. The lack of proper eye hygiene can make these impurities settle around the eyes.
Certain microbes naturally live around the eye and feed on this organic matter, which can proliferate rapidly and cause an infection. If left unchecked, the infection can spread deeper into the eye and cause serious complications such as retinal damage.
Different eye infections tend to have different underlying causes, but most of them present similar symptoms that can be managed through certain tried-and-tested home remedies.
However, it is important to consult an eye specialist first to rule out any serious condition. Severe eye infections, if left untreated, can damage the retina, blood vessels, or optic nerve inside the eye. (1)
Some of the most common symptoms of eye infections include:
Effective Home Remedies for Common Eye Infections
Here are a few natural and inexpensive ways to relieve the symptomatic discomfort caused by eye infections and to speed up recovery.
1. Apply a cold or warm compress
Topical cold and heat therapies work differently to soothe the pain and inflammation in and around the infected eye. The application of cool temperature shrinks the underlying blood vessels and numbs the area for a temporary period to make you feel less pain.
Meanwhile, the application of gentle heat stimulates blood circulation under the skin, which helps relieve inflammation and brings more white blood cells to the site to fight the infection.
You can try both these techniques and then choose the one that suits you more, or switch between the two from time to time. (2)
How to use:
- Soak a clean soft washcloth in cold or comfortably warm water (according to your preference).
- Wring out the excess liquid.
- Place the damp cloth over the infected eye for 10–20 minutes. Warm compresses should be applied for 15 minutes at least four times a day.
- Thoroughly wash the cloth after use.
Note: If only one eye is infected, don’t apply the same compress that you used on the infected eye to the healthy one. And even if both eyes are infected, use a separate cloth on each eye to prevent the spread of germs from one eye to the other.
2. Try eyebright
Eyebright (euphrasia) is a medicinal herb that can help treat eye infections and associated discomfort due to its strong antimicrobial effects.
A 2007 study found it to be quite effective in treating various conjunctival conditions, (4) but more research is needed to confirm these claims.
How to use:
- Mix a teaspoon of eyebright in a cup of water.
- Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes and then turn off the heat.
- Once the solution cools down, strain it through clean cheesecloth.
- Use this liquid to rinse your eyes.
Note: Prepare a fresh batch every day.
3. Use saltwater as an eye rinse
Your eyes are basically self-cleaning organs. They secrete tears that not only lubricate their surface but also flush out any foreign debris or irritants and possess antiseptic properties that keep germs away.
Saline water works the same way as tears to keep the eyes clean. Salt exhibits potent antimicrobial activity that can help fight eye infections. Plus, it works as an anti-inflammatory agent that can alleviate the pain, redness, and swelling caused by such infections. (5)
How to use:
- Mix 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 glass of water.
- Use this solution to wash the infected eye regularly.
Note: Don’t use more than 1 teaspoon of salt because a high concentration of salt may dehydrate your eyes and cause eye burning, stinging, and redness. If you experience a stinging or burning feeling, wash the eye properly.
4. Use colloidal silver drops
Colloidal silver is credited with strong antimicrobial properties that can help clear various eye infections. (6) No wonder it is one of the most widely used ingredients in eye drops that you can easily get from any local pharmacy.
How to use:
Put 1–2 drops of colloidal silver drops in each eye up to four times daily until the infection goes away.
5. Try honey
Honey possesses significant anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects that can help relieve different types of eye infections such as blepharitis, keratitis, and keratoconjunctivitis.
It soothes the eye irritation caused by such infections and kills germs in the area to promote faster healing. (7)
How to use:
- Mix 2 drops of honey in a cup of boiled water and let it cool down.
- Use a sterilized dropper to put a drop of this solution in each eye.
- Wait for 5–10 minutes and then rinse the eyes.
- Repeat this twice daily.
6. Apply colostrum
Newborn babies often develop mild eye infections such as conjunctivitis, which can easily be treated with colostrum.
Colostrum is the earliest form of breast milk, which starts being produced during the 12th–16th week of pregnancy and lasts for many days after childbirth. It is loaded with antibodies that can help treat neonatal eye infections and ease the associated discomfort.
Research has shown that the use of colostrum as eye drops serves as a safe and effective first-line treatment for eye discharge in infants aged 6 months or less. (8)
How to use:
- Use a dropper to put 1–2 drops of colostrum in the eyes of the newborn.
- Wait for 5 minutes and then gently wipe the baby’s eyes.
- Do this twice daily for best results.
7. Put some cucumber slices
Cucumbers are full of water and antioxidants that give them cooling and soothing properties. (9) Using them on your infected eyes can help reduce inflammation and soreness in and around the area.
How to use:
- Put two thick cucumber slices in ice-cold water or a refrigerator for about 10 minutes.
- Close your eyelids and place one slice on each eye until it’s no longer cold.
8. Use tea bags
Tea bags are handy at-home remedies for conjunctivitis (pink eye) or other kinds of eye irritation such as soreness and styes.
Tea contains various bioactive compounds that help fight infections and reduce inflammation, such as flavonoids and catechins. (10) You can use this ingredient in different ways to clear eye infections and provide symptomatic relief.
Tea bag compress:
- Dip a black or green tea bag in warm water for a few minutes.
- Squeeze it to release the extra liquid.
- Place the warm damp tea bag over the infected eye for 5 minutes.
- Repeat as needed until the infection subsides.
- Put 1 teaspoon of loose chamomile tea in a cup of boiling water.
- Let it brew for 5 minutes and then strain the liquid in a container.
- Keep the container in the fridge to cool down.
- Use the liquid as an eyewash to reduce itchiness, irritation, and inflammation in and around the infected eye.
9. Wash with a boric acid solution
Boric acid is both an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent that can help treat an eye infection while also relieving the symptomatic discomfort associated with it.
Putting it in your eyes may cause a little stinging or burning at first, but it will quickly subside on its own. This remedy helps curb excessive tearing and soothes the redness, dryness, and irritation in your eyes. (11)
Meanwhile, its mild antibacterial and antifungal activities help combat the root cause of the infection and thus promote a speedy recovery. (12)
How to use:
- Dissolve ⅛ teaspoon of medicinal-grade boric acid in a cup of filtered water.
- Heat this mixture until it comes to a boil, and then let it cool down to room temperature.
- Use a clean cheesecloth to strain the solution.
- Wash your eyes with this solution.
- Do this 3 times a day, but make sure to use freshly prepared solution each time.
What Are the Warning Signs of Eye Disorders?
You must visit an eye specialist if you develop any of the following symptoms that may indicate a serious underlying problem:
- Sudden change in vision
- Eye pain (with or without eye movement)
- Visual field defect (by history or examination)
- Visible abnormality of the retina or optic disk
- A systemic disorder that could cause retinopathy (such as sickle cell anemia, possible hyperviscosity syndrome, diabetes, or hypertension)
Preventive Tips Against Eye Infections
- If you have dry eyes, use lubricating eye drops to reduce irritation and the risk of infection.
- Clean and store your contact lenses as advised by your doctor. Don’t wear them too much and get a new pair after every 6 months. If your eyes become strained, irritated, or infected, don’t wear contact lenses until the symptoms resolve completely.
- Avoid touching your eyes in general, but more so during an infection. Your hands carry germs and dirt that can get transferred to your eyes and cause an infection. Moreover, touching the infected eye can transfer the germs to your hands and from there to the other eye and even to someone else.
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water, but especially before handling contact lenses or touching your eyes. If you already have an eye infection, thoroughly wash your hands after using eye drops or cleaning your eye.
- Don’t share your personal items such as makeup, eye drops, towels, eyeglasses, or washcloths with others.
Contact Lens and Eye Care
Wearing contact lenses can increase the risk of eye infection or irritation in the following cases:
- The epithelial tissue forming the outermost layer of the cornea becomes eroded, causing redness and inflammation.
- The lens is too tight, too loose, or not centered properly.
- The eyes lack lubrication to keep the lens floating above the cornea.
- An external irritant such as soot or dust gets stuck between the lens and the cornea.
- The lenses are worn for long periods.
It’s best to avoid contact lenses until the above-listed problems are resolved.
What Are the Useful Nutrients for Eye Care As Recommended by Doctors?
Here are some nutrients that can help improve eye health:
- Zinc oxide, 80 mg
- Copper, 2 mg
- Vitamin C, 500 mg
- Vitamin E, 400 IU
- β-carotene, 15 mg (or vitamin A, 28,000 IU)
Note: Vitamin A is sometimes substituted for β-carotene. In smokers, β-carotene and vitamin A can increase the risk of lung cancer. (13)(14) For this reason, they are contraindicated in patients who have smoked in the previous 7 years.
Reducing cardiovascular risk factors, including eating foods high in ω-3 fatty acids and dark green leafy vegetables may help.
What Are the Risk Factors for Eye Disorders?
Here are some factors that can make you more prone to eye disorders:
- Trauma (sometimes causing cataracts years later)
- Alcohol use
- Exposure to X-rays
- Heat from infrared exposure
- Systemic drugs (such as corticosteroids)
- Possibly chronic ultraviolet exposure
When to See a Doctor
Visit a doctor if:
- Your symptoms persist for more than 2–3 days despite home treatment.
- You develop severe or persistent eye pain, swelling, and redness.
- You develop vision problems.
- You have a compromised immune system.
Eye infections are pretty common but can be quite painful and potentially harmful to the eyes.
You can try the above-listed remedies to relieve mild inflammation, itching, and irritation in the eyes, but seek medical help if the symptoms persist for more than 2–3 days or continue to get worse.