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How to treat conjunctivitis at home

Conjunctivitis, or pink-eye, can itch. It can hurt. It can make you feel as though you’ve had sand thrown in your eyes. It looks pretty awful, too. It can also injure your eyes and, if caused by bacteria or a virus, can spread like the plague

So what are you supposed to do? Start by seeking the help of your doctor. If you have a bacterial infection, you may be given antibiotic eye drops that will speed up healing and shorten contagion time. Meanwhile, you can take steps to ease the itch and control the crusting.

Get an eyeful of relief

• Hot or cold compresses can help
If you have considerable discharge from your eyes, run a flannel under warm water and use it as a compress to prevent the sticky secretions from drying on the lashes. Use a cold compress (soak a flannel in iced water) to shrink swelling and reduce itchiness, especially if your conjunctivitis is caused by allergies. Do either one – or both – for 5 minutes three or four times a day. Use a clean flannel each time.

• Wipe away the secretions and crusty material with a cotton wool ball soaked in 1 part baby shampoo to 10 parts warm water. The warm water loosens the crust, and the shampoo cleans the area where your eyelid and eyelashes meet.

• Use an eyewash made of lightly salted water.
Bring a pint of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt and let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. Let the solution cool down. Use a sterile eyedropper or eye-bath to apply the wash. After each treatment, sterilize the eye-dropper or eye-bath again in boiling water.

• A goldenseal eyewash will help fight infection.
Goldenseal contains a compound called berberine that has antibacterial properties. To make the wash, steep 1 teaspoon of dried goldenseal in boiling water for 10 minutes, strain and let it cool. Apply with a sterile eye-dropper three times a day.

Prepare your eyes for bed

• If your doctor has prescribed antibiotic or steroid eye drops or ointments, use them each night before you go to bed to ensure that your eyelids don’t get glued shut while you sleep.

Make sure the tip of the eyedrop bottle or tube does not touch your eyes. Otherwise, you might contaminate the medicine and potentially re-infect your eyes the next time you use it.

Soothers for sore eyes

• Soothe your eyes with a camomile compress. Place a camomile tea bag in warm (not hot) water for 2 or 3 minutes, squeeze out the excess liquid, then place the teabag over your sore eye or eyes for ten minutes. Repeat three or four times a day with a fresh teabag. Keep your eyes closed so the wash doesn’t come into direct contact with your eye.

• Practitioners of Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India, treat conjunctivitis with a pulp of fresh coriander leaves.Whizz a handful of coriander leaves with 100ml water in a blender. Strain off the juice and apply the pulp to your closed eyelids. Leave it on for a few minutes, then wipe away the mixture before you open your eyes.

• Another Ayurvedic treatment for conjunctivitis is to steep 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds in 1 cup of boiling water for at least 15 minutes. Strain, cool and use the water to bathe your closed eyes.Wipe away any excess before you open your eyes.

Contain the contagion

• To avoid re-infection, don’t wear eye make-up or contact lenses until the infection is completely gone. Discard any eye make-up you were using when the infection developed.

• Try not to touch your eyes. If you happen to touch them accidentally, wash your hands with soap and water, then dry with a paper towel or hot-air dryer instead of a hand towel.

• If you have to dab your eyes, use a separate tissue for each eye. Immediately throw both tissues in a plastic bag and wash your hands.When it’s time to throw out the plastic bag, do it yourself and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

• Carry a small bottle of antibacterial hand gel with you and use it often.

• If you wear contact lenses, do not wear them at all while you’ve actually got conjunctivitis, then sterilize them properly before wearing them again when it’s cleared up. Always wash your hands before you put in or take out your lenses. And never, ever clean a contact lens with saliva.

• Put your towel, flannel and pillowcase into the washing machine every day to help to prevent you from re-introducing the bacteria or virus to the same eye or spreading it to the other eye. (And other people can pick up conjunctivitis by using the same flannel or towels that you’ve used.)

• Let someone else make the beds. Conjunctivitis can be spread from your hands to the sheets.

• If you have young children with conjunctivitis who are too young to follow the rules about not touching their eyes and washing their hands, they should stay at home from school or nursery. Most daycare nurseries and pre-schools will not admit a child with symptoms of conjunctivitis.

If you have allergic conjunctivitis…

If your eye itches and produces a stringy discharge, your conjunctivitis may be the result of an allergy.Try taking an oral antihistamine to relieve the itching and swelling.

• Avoid whatever’s causing it if possible – whether pollen, animals or cosmetics. It may be a new pet, new type of eye make-up or a different shampoo.

Ask Your Pharmacist

My 10-year-old son’s eyes are red, itchy and watery. Eye drops don’t seem to be working. What do you suggest?

I can’t offer you any specific advice since I haven’t seen your son’s eyes, but pink eye is a possibility. What many people don’t know is that conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye, has a variety of causes. This common disorder is caused by swelling or infection of the membrane that lines the eyelid and part of the eyeball. Although pink eye can be irritating, it seldom affects vision.

The most common symptoms of pink eye include redness, tearing, itchiness, and a gritty feeling in either one or both eyes. There is often a discharge from the affected eye(s) that forms a crust overnight. It is important to know that certain types of pink eye can be very contagious lasting upwards of two weeks after the signs and symptoms begin. Early diagnosis and treatment will not only reduce the irritation, but also limit its spread to others.

Some of the causes include: bacteria, viruses, allergies, or foreign debris in the eye. Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis can affect either one or both eyes. Viral conjunctivitis often has a clear, watery discharge from the eye, whereas bacterial conjunctivitis has a thicker, yellow/green discharge. Viral conjunctivitis also tends to begin in one eye then infect the other in a couple days. We often see cases of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis at the same time as colds or other respiratory tract infections. It is these two types of pink eye that can be highly contagious. Allergic conjunctivitis on the other hand affects both eyes and is the body’s response to a substance like pollen or dust. This type of pink eye typically causes extreme itching and tearing of the eyes, along with sneezing and watery nasal discharge. Finally, another type of conjunctivitis is due to foreign debris in the eye, such as sand or wood. Most often, flushing and cleaning the eye will help get rid of the object, with the symptoms of watery eyes and mucous discharge clearing up on their own within approximately one day.

Because there are different causes of pink eye, it is important to have understanding of how to treat each type. If the infection is caused by bacteria, the necessary treatment is an antibacterial eye drop such as Polysporin®. Once treatment is started, symptoms often begin to go away within two to three days. Viral conjunctivitis often does not have a treatment option. Instead the virus has to run its course and go away on its own, usually within approximately two or three weeks. Finally, allergic conjunctivitis is best managed with antihistamine eye drops or oral medications, some of which can be found over-the-counter at your pharmacy. Regardless of the cause, if you wear contact lenses, you should stop using them until your eye symptoms have improved.

If you are experiencing any eye pain, change in vision, or have an object trapped in your eye, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. You should also see your physician if after 48 hours of treating pink eye at home, you do not see any improvement, or if symptoms worsen. All children, especially those under the age of two should seek medical attention prior to initiating therapy for a suspected case of pink eye.

To prevent the spread of bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, you should wash your hands as often as possible, avoid touching your eyes with your hands, use a clean towel and washcloth every day, and throw away any used eye cosmetics, such as mascara.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of each type of pink eye is important in deciding the appropriate treatment option. Be sure to speak to your pharmacist or doctor about your son’s eyes.

Daniel Pike (BSc., Pharm) is the Vice President of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association as well as a pharmacist at the Medicine Shoppe in Fredericton and Guardian Pharmacy in Nackawic. His opinions expressed in the Daily Gleaner are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to [email protected]

Sussex pharmacist Kevin Duplisea dispenses information and advice on a wide range of pharmacy questions in a regular column published in several newspapers.

If you have a question you’d like to see answered in his column, you can send it to him at [email protected]

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