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Eye problems are never fun, especially for kids. Pink eye is a common childhood ailment that can also spread to adults. With these home remedies for pink eye though, you’ll know what to do if you or your child have to deal with it!
What is Pink Eye?
Pink eye, aka conjunctivitis, is when the conjunctiva in the eyes becomes inflamed and irritated. Eyes can be red for several reasons, but pink eye is caused by viruses, bacteria, or sometimes allergies. If there’s a foreign object in the eye this can cause red eyes and an irritated cornea, but it’s not necessarily an eye infection.
Types of Pink Eye
- Viral pink eye– Viral conjunctivitis is by far the most common. Usually caused by adenovirus (mild cold and flu), but can also be caused by herpes simplex and other viruses.
- Bacterial pink eye – Pink eye caused by bacterial infection is much less common, but it can happen. The most common bacteria behind it are Haemophilus influenza, Streptococcus pneumonia, and Moraxella catarrhalis.
- Allergic pink eye – Allergic conjunctivitis is different. This type is triggered by allergens like pollen.
- Baby pink eye – Newborns and infants can get pink eye for a different reason. Sometimes it’s caused by a partially clogged or unopened tear duct. It can also be caused by an infection transmitted from the mom at birth or irritation due to newborn eye drops for STIs.
Pink eye lasts for a few days to a few weeks. Anyone can get pink eye, but it’s most common in school-age children. Pink eye that’s due to an allergic reaction will last as long as that person is around their allergen.
Some sources say you can tell if it’s bacterial conjunctivitis or viral based on the discharge color. But it’s a little trickier than that. Even eye experts only had a 48% accuracy rate in determining the cause. And testing isn’t always accurate. Up to 90% of pink eye is caused by adenoviruses.
Symptoms of Pink Eye
The main symptom in cases of pink eye is a pink or red eye, but here are some more to look out for:
- Dry eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Red eyes
- A gritty feeling
- Eye inflammation
- Discharge that forms a crust (can be yellow, clear, green, or white). This can cause the eyes to seal together at night, making it difficult to open the eye the next morning.
Since the body is fighting off an infection or allergen, it’s also common to feel tired and generally under the weather.
How Does Pink Eye Spread?
This eye condition is easily spread from person to person. If someone touches their eye and then touches something (or someone) else, the virus or bacteria will spread. Adenovirus is the most common viral infection behind pink eye. This virus can live on surfaces for months and is resistant to some cleaners.
Any mom can tell you how hard it is to keep little hands from wiping noses and eyes. And then wiping it on toys, doorknobs, other siblings…
Conventional Pink Eye Treatments
Since most cases are caused by a virus, there aren’t a lot of medical treatment options. Sometimes a primary care provider or ophthalmologist (eye doctor) will prescribe antibiotics or antibiotic eye drops. The CDC recommends against this though for viral infection.
Anti-viral medications for pink eye don’t treat the most common strains. A 2011 study looked at anti-viral meds for pink eye. Most focused on treating the herpes virus (which causes very few cases). And some of the antiviral drugs are known to be toxic or ineffective. The study authors conclude that there are no known effective drug treatments for viral pink eye.
Allergic pink eye is a little different. It’s most often treated with over-the-counter antihistamines. Sometimes anti-inflammatory eye drops are used.
If there’s pain or inflammation, ibuprofen is sometimes used.
When To See Your Doctor
Most cases of pink eye don’t need medical attention and go away on their own. The CDC recommends seeing a healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Pain in the eye
- Sensitivity to light – especially indoor light
- Intense redness in the whites of the eyes
- Blurred vision that doesn’t improve after wiping away any discharge
- Newborns that have pink eye should see their pediatrician right away
Good Hygiene Habits For Eyes
Eye health isn’t just about which natural remedies or pharmaceutical medicines you take though. Healthy habits can help mitigate the spread and relieve pink eye fast. Here are some ways to help keep pink eye from getting worse.
- Don’t use contact lenses during pink eye. These cause more irritation.
- Change pillowcases and sheets often.
- Avoid touching affected eyes and wash hands afterward if you do.
- You can also use a clean washcloth and some warm water for a warm compress. Some sources recommend using a cool compress to calm inflammation.
- Use a warm washcloth to help wipe off the crusty discharge – especially in the mornings
- Don’t use eye makeup when you have pink eye. And throw eye makeup away once the pink eye is gone. Mascara and other eye makeup with water should be replaced every 3 months. Waterless eye makeup, like eyeliner pencils, is good for 6-12 months. These products are more prone to growing bacteria since they’re applied to the moist eye area.
Home Remedies For Pink Eye
While there aren’t many conventional options, here’s where home treatments can really shine! Here are some of the most common and most evidence based home remedies for pink eye.
Allergic Pink Eye Solutions
If the pink eye is due to allergies, here’s how to get to the root cause and address the symptoms naturally. Fixing leaky gut symptoms is also key. For fast symptom relief, Genexa offers homeopathic medicine for kids and adults.
(Natural) Artificial Tears
These help by lubricating the eyes and calming the irritation. While they won’t kill viruses or bacteria, eye drops can help provide soothing relief. Do not use eye drops labeled for red eyes. These can irritate and burn pink eye further.
A lot of artificial tears have preservatives and other chemical ingredients I prefer to avoid. However, there are some good options. You can get a natural version of artificial tears here.
Vitamins and Supplements
Having a healthy immune system is key to fighting off pathogens. Probiotics, zinc, and vitamin C are at the top of the list here.
A 2008 study found lactobacillus eye drops relieved pink eye symptoms like itching and discharge. Taking probiotics internally also supports a healthy microbiome for a healthier body. A 2020 study looked at which probiotics were effective against bacterial pink eye. They found that lactobacillus and bifidobacterium probiotics inhibited the bacterial strains most likely to cause bacterial pink eye.
French ophthalmologists reported in 2003 on their experience using supplements for allergic pink eye. These authors stress the importance of zinc, vitamin C, and magnesium for allergic rhinitis and resulting eye irritation. A 1993 French study reported less sensitivity to pollen after zinc use. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York also recommends zinc and vitamin C for a general immune boost to fight pink eye.
Crunchy mama circles often recommend Breastmilk as a natural remedy. There have been several studies on its use for pink eye specifically, with mixed results. A study in the British Medical Journal examined how well breastmilk did against bacterial pink eye. While it did inhibit gonorrhea and some streptococcus bacteria, it didn’t have an effect on the other bacteria tested.
This study has its limitations though because it was done in Petri dishes, not in actual humans. And viruses, not bacteria cause most cases of pink eye.
Another study looked at breast milk eye drops in infants with eye discharge. The breastmilk worked as well as the conventional eye drops after 1 week. However, many cases of pink eye start to clear up on their own in a week. So it’s hard to tell how much of an effect the breast milk had.
The study also doesn’t specify if each baby was treated with their own mother’s milk. We know breastmilk responds and changes to babies’ needs, so using another mother’s milk won’t have the same exact effect. Some moms swear by breastmilk for pink eye though.
If you want to use breastmilk for pink eye, place a few drops of clean breastmilk in the affected eye as often as needed.
Chamomile Home Remedy for Pink Eye
Chamomile is one of my favorite herbs to have on hand. It helps soothe eye infections and calm inflammation. And it’s generally safe and gentle for kids, pregnant and breastfeeding women. Use caution if you have eye irritation caused by hay fever or allergies though.
A 1990 study reported cases of chamomile eyewash causing an allergic reaction in those with seasonal allergies and hay fever. These same people had no issues with drinking chamomile tea though.
To use chamomile, soak some chamomile tea bags in warm water and place them over closed eyelids. You can also dip a washcloth in some warm tea made from the whole herb and lay that on the eyes. The European Medicines Agency recommends infusing 3-10 grams of dried flowers in 100ml of water for a compress.
Another option is to make a chamomile eye wash with very well-strained chamomile tea.
Cats Claw Bark
Cats claw is a common herbal remedy for Lyme disease, arthritis, and other ailments. It’s also great for pink eye. Cat’s claw is a soothing and potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic that can provide relief from eye inflammation. It also helps stimulate the immune system into action. Using cat’s claw internally isn’t recommended during pregnancy or for those on immunosuppressant drugs.
Since cat’s claw is on the drying side, it works well when paired with moistening and soothing herbs, like plantain leaf.
To use, simmer 1 gram of dried cat’s claw root in 1 cup of water for about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add 1 tsp of plantain if desired. Cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain well and use it as a warm (not hot) eye wash or warm compress on the eyelid.
The name of this herb kind of gives it away. Eyebright is a favorite for soothing itchy, irritated eyes caused by allergies and colds. It’s good for allergic rhinitis and the red, itchy eyes that come with hay fever. Eyebright is a good choice for those with allergic or inflammatory conjunctivitis.
A 2000 study evaluated eyebright eye drops for patients with inflammatory and catarrhal conjunctivitis. Most of the patients had a complete recovery, and 17% saw clear improvement.
To use eyebright:
- Dip eyebright tea bags in warm water and place on closed eyes for 10-20 minutes
- Make a tea of 1-3 teaspoons eyebright herb per 1 cup hot water. Steep for 30 minutes and strain well. Can be used as a warm compress or eye wash. Get eyebright herb here.
- If you prefer to buy it premade, here’s an eyebright eye wash solution to mix with water. Or these eyebright eye drops.
Garlic Home Remedy For Pink Eye
No, I’m not going to tell you to put garlic on your eye! However, garlic is a potent antiviral and antibacterial remedy that works for a wide variety of pathogens. A 2020 study in Trends in Food Science and Technology reports it also inhibits adenovirus – the most common cause of pink eye.
To use, include garlic liberally in the diet. Fermented garlic honey or roasted garlic soup are tasty options. I also dice raw garlic and eat a spoonful, followed by a swig of water. That last option may be a little spicy for some though!
A popular cold and flu remedy, echinacea is well known for its anti-viral properties and its ability to stimulate the immune system. A 2009 study confirmed its effectiveness against several viral strains, including adenovirus. Echinacea works best when used at the first signs of illness and usually isn’t as effective if started several days into the ailment.
To use echinacea for pink eye:
- Apply echinacea tea as a warm compress to the eyes
- Drink echinacea tea.
- Take echinacea tincture (or echinacea glycerite) internally
Elderberry and Chokeberry (Aronia)
My elderberry syrup recipe is still the most visited article on my site. While elderberry is a popular natural remedy and known anti-viral, it may not be the best option for pink eye. A 2022 study found that elderberry didn’t show any activity against adenoviruses (the usual cause of pink eye). A lesser-known plant, black chokecherry (Aronia melanocarpae) however did.
While elderberry may still provide some immune benefits when dealing with pink eye, aronia may be the better option.
This herbal adaptogen has been used for centuries in China as both food and medicine. It helps reduce inflammation and modulates the immune system. A 2011 study examined astragalus’s effect on adenovirus. A supplement made from astragalus not only inhibited adenovirus replication but also helped kill the virus.
Astragalus is generally safe, but it can stimulate the immune system so use caution with autoimmune disease or while on immunosuppressant drugs. It can be used as a decoction, syrup, tincture, glycerite, or taken in capsules. You can get astragalus root here or astragalus capsules here.
To use Astragalus:
- Tincture: Herbalist David Hoffman (AHG) recommends taking 4-8 milliliters 3 times a day.
- Decoction: Hoffman recommends drinking 1 cup of astragalus tea 3 times a day. To make it, use 2-4 teaspoons of dried root per 1 cup of boiling water, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain and drink.
Many people use colloidal silver for everything from wound treatment to ingesting for colds and flu. Colloidal silver does have a proven track record in its ability to fight off pathogens. However, using it in the sensitive eye area is a little different.
Starting in the late 1800’s silver nitrate was used to help prevent blindness in newborns caused by infections picked up during vaginal birth. The practice was discontinued in Britain in the 1950s and later on in the US and Canada. Researchers found it was significantly irritating the babies’ eyes. In a double-blind study, 90% of babies got chemical conjunctivitis from the silver treatment. That’s compared with only 2% or less from the saline and no treatment groups. Months later, nearly a quarter still had eye damage.
Other studies show it causes pain in both infants and adults. Mainstream adult use of putting silver in the eyes was discontinued decades ago due to the irritation and pain it caused in the eye. While it might clear the infection, it was possibly damaging the eye too.
Adults and children aren’t newborns, but placing silver directly into the delicate mucus membrane of the eye can cause irritation. While there are other, known safe and effective options, colloidal silver may not be the best one.
If you want the antimicrobial benefits of silver, here’s a homeopathic eye drop for pink eye that includes it.
Final Thoughts on Home Remedies For Pink Eye
While conventional pink eye remedies focus on symptom relief, natural remedies can also help fight the pathogens that cause pink eye. If symptoms don’t improve or get worse (especially in very little ones), be sure to reach out to your healthcare practitioner for advice. With all of the different home remedy options, hopefully you’ll find the right one for you!
Have you ever dealt with pink eye before? What did you try for it? Leave a comment and let me know!
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