Pink eye, which is less commonly known as conjunctivitis, happens when the transparent membrane of the eyelids (also called conjunctiva) gets infected and the blood vessels in the eye become more prominent and visible.
Blood vessel dilation and inflammation, coupled with the fact that conjunctiva covers the whites of the eyes (sclera) is what causes them to appear pink, red or “bloodshot” after infection.
Pink eye is often contagious, can happen in one or both eyes and usually does not damage vision.
Diagnosing and treating the infection quickly prevents it from spreading to others. Taking preventative measures is typically effective for avoiding pink eye, however, once infected, treatment is fairly fast, simple and effective.
People of all ages can contract pink eye, however the condition mainly affects those who spend a lot of time around others such as preschool and school age children, teachers, daycare workers and college students.
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Signs and Symptoms
The main indication of infection with pink eye is having an eye that looks pink or red. However, there are several additional symptoms depending on the type of conjunctivitis infection.
- Viral Conjunctivitis
While the infection is caused by several factors, many medical professionals only regard viral conjunctivitis as “pink eye”. The infection spreads easily through coughing and sneezing due to its highly contagious nature.
- Eye redness
- Light sensitivity
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis
Bacterial conjunctivitis transfers to the eyes through direct contact with an object carrying the bacteria, such as dirty hands.
- The primary symptom of bacterial conjunctivitis is a sticky discharge in the corners of the eyes that is usually yellow or greenish-yellow.
- The discharge often causes eyelids to stick together after sleeping if the infection becomes severe.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis
While allergic conjunctivitis is not contagious, it can cause severe discomfort to individuals suffering with it.
- Watering eyes
- Feeling “grit” in the eyes
- Runny and stuffy nose
- Sensitivity to light
Causes: How Do You Get Pink Eye?
The specific type of conjunctivitis is directly related to the cause that leads to the infection.
- Viral Conjunctivitis
As the name suggests, viral conjunctivitis is caused by contracting a virus, typically spread via infected secretions (through direct or indirect contact). Although this type of pink eye clears quickly and without treatment, it is extremely contagious and is often linked to the common cold or respiratory issues such as a sore throat infection.
- Bacterial Conjunctivitis
With the ability to cause critical and permanent damage to eyes, bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria and affects more children than adults. It is usually spread by the eyes making contact with bacteria-covered objects such as fingers or contact lenses.
- Allergic Conjunctivitis
Allergic conjunctivitis, which affects both eyes and can be year-round or seasonal, happens when common allergens such as animal dander, chemical fumes, pollen and dust get into the eyes. Irritants and other foreign objects entering the eyes can also trigger allergic conjunctivitis.
The body releases immunoglobulin E (antibodies) in response to allergens and in turn triggers inflammation (histamines) by way of mast cells in the lining of the eyes.
Pink eye caused by allergies usually goes away quickly once the irritant is flushed from the eyes.
Additional causes of pink eye include, blepharitis, dry eyes and other infections of the eyes.
During childbirth, as a newborn passes through the birth canal it is exposed to any bacteria that is present. If the bacteria gets into the infants eyes it can cause a rare form of conjunctivitis infection (known as ophthalmic neonatorum), which can permanently damage eyes if not treated immediately after birth with antibiotic ointment.
It usually takes between three and seven days for pink eye to clear once treatment begins. However, individuals with the infection can remain contagious for a full week, which is why experts recommend treating both eyes any time pink eye is suspected, even if it is only apparent in one eye.
Home Remedies for Pinky Eyes
The following home remedies help provide relief from pink eye and its symptoms.
- Raw Honey
The antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties contained in honey make it powerful for fighting infection brought on by pink eye. If possible, use Mauka honey for treating conjunctivitis, as it has high levels of an inflammation fighting compound known as dihydroxyacetone.
Milk and honey combined are a potent remedy for clearing pink eye and other bacterial infections.
- Combine a tablespoon of water (or milk), a tablespoon of raw honey, and a pinch of salt before warming the mixture slightly.
- After mixture has cooled use an eyedropper to apply a few drops to each eye.
- Combine three tablespoons of honey with two cups of water (or milk).
- Boil the mixture and stir until the honey dissolves completely.
- Let the mixture cool to room temperature before using it to wash the affected eye.
- Breast Milk
The antimicrobial compounds in breastmilk make it particularly effective for clearing eye infections caused by bacteria. An antibody (known as immunoglobulin A) stops bacterial growth once introduced to the mucus membranes of the eyes.
- Express breastmilk into a sterile container before using an eyedropper to apply a few drops to each affected eye.
For best results, repeat the treatment three times daily for several consecutive days.
Warning: If there is no improvement after several days of treatment, consult with a physician.
- Colloidal Silver
Colloidal silver, is an eye application once commonly used for preventing bacterial eye infection in newborns (now largely replaced by an antibiotic ointment called erythromycin). It is an effective treatment for clearing infection caused by conjunctivitis due to its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Unlike its counterpart silver nitrate, which is a mixture of nitric acid and silver, colloidal silver is made up of silver particles suspended in water, which makes it less irritating to the eyes.
- Apply one or two drops of colloidal silver to affected eyes.
Repeat the treatment three to four times daily to see results quickly.
- Herbal Tea Poultices
Because of their ability to reduce inflammation and fight bacteria, herbal tea poultices have been used for centuries to treat viral eye infections. The catechins and bioflavonoids present in herbal teas, eliminate the swelling and puffiness that are a side effect of pink eye while also removing secretions from the eyes.
Some herbal teas (and eye washes) that are effective for treating pink eye include:
- Green tea
- Black tea
Here is how to create and use the poultice:
- Add one herbal teabag to a cup of boiled water, allowing it to steep for several minutes (optionally, add salt to increase the astringent effect of the poultice).
- Remove the teabag from the water and allow it to cool until it is comfortably warm.
- Apply the teabag to the affected eye and leave it in place for between fifteen and twenty minutes before removing it.
For best results, repeat this treatment three to four times each day until the infection clears.
Warning: If there is a known allergy to ragweed, avoid using chamomile and calendula for treatment. If pregnant, consult with a doctor before using herbal treatments.
- Barberry plant
The potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties in the Barberry plant (also known as the Berberis vulgaris or mountain grape) is effective for getting rid of pink eye.
The bark and stem roots of the plant contain a substance called Berberine (or isoquinolone alkaloid) which clears conjunctivitis quickly when made into an eye wash.
- Boil barberry bark in clean water for several minutes before straining the mixture and allow it to cool completely.
- Rise the affected eyes thoroughly with the barberry water.
- Apply a poultice that contains several drops of the barberry mixture.
Due to its strong astringent content, potatoes help to soothe discomfort and reduce the swollen, puffy eyes associated with allergic conjunctivitis.
- Slice a cold raw potato thinly into several sections.
- Lay down and place one slice over each eye for at least 10 minutes.
- Wash eyes thoroughly with warm water.
For best results, repeat daily for at least a week.
Goldenseal kills bacterial and eliminates infections that cause pink eye. Along with berberine, goldenseal has powerful antimicrobial, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Add an eighth of a teaspoon of goldenseal, comfrey and chamomile to a cup of boiling water and steep for fifteen minutes.
- Strain the mixture and use an eyedropper to apply the liquid to the affected eyes.
For best results use the eye drops several times a day.
- Probiotics and Milk Yogurt
Probiotics (beneficial bacteria) are effective for killing the harmful bacteria that cause conjunctivitis. Rich sources of probiotics include goat’s milk, raw cow milk, cultured yogurt and kefir.
- Apply several drops of the probiotic liquid to the affected eye(s) several times a day.
Warning: Powdered dairy products rehydrated with water and pasteurized milk do not work for treating pink eye as they do not contain live probiotics.
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil
Fermented cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and essential fatty acids. It is effective for the treatment and prevention of pink eye (and other viral infections such as croup) and is a powerful supplement for maintaining optimal eye health.
- Before going to bed, take one cod live oil capsule daily.
Warning: Always check the labelling and manufacturer information to ensure the authenticity of fermented cod liver oil, which is the only kind that is effective for treating pink eye.
- Salt Water Wash
A salt water (saline) eye wash is an effective and popular remedy for clearing infection caused by conjunctivitis.
Instead of common table salt, use Himalayan pink rock salt or natural sea salt to make the eye wash. Baking soda can also be substituted for salt with the same effect.
- Boil distilled water and add a teaspoon of sea salt or pink rock salt.
- Wait for the mixture to cool before using an eyedropper to add a few drops of the solution to each eye.
- Use a cotton ball to apply the salt water mixture over the eyes.
For best results, repeat the treatment several times a day.
- Warm Or Cold Compress
An effective way to ease discomfort and dissolve the secretions associated with viral and bacterial conjunctivitis is by using a cold or warm compress on the eyes.
Cold compresses soothe and calm the eyes, but depending on the individual, a warm compress may be equally effective.
- Take a clean cloth (ensure it is lint-free) and soak it in a bowl of cold water.
- Wring the excess water out and place the cloth over the eyes for several minutes.
- Soak a clean cloth in warm water and wring out the excess before placing it over the eyes.
- After several minutes, wipe the outside of the eyes to remove any discharge present.
Repeat each treatment several times daily for a few minutes at a time.
Warning: If pink eye is only present in one eye, avoid touching the other eye with the cloth being used for treatment.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contains potent antibacterial and antiviral properties. Along with destroying infections, microbes and protozoa within the eye, taking apple cider vinegar internally helps to improve healthy gut bacteria to boost the immune system and prevent pink eye from recurring.
- Combine a cup of water with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
- Soak a clean washcloth with the solution and place it over the eyes.
- Use diluted apple cider as a rinse to wash secretions from the eyes.
Warning: ACV may sting or cause eye irritation. Always dilute with water before use and proceed with caution.