My son has been home from school with pinkeye for a few days now. It must be going around because there were other children in his classroom who also had it. But what exactly is pinkeye, and how bad can it be?
Pinkeye (it even sounds kind of cute) is usually not serious, just irritating. It’s an inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye — the thin protective membrane that covers the eyeball and the eyelids. That’s why the medical term is conjunctivitis. Here is a good website that describes the various types of conjunctivitis and explains when to see your pediatrician or M.D. Since I am currently dealing with a viral pinkeye let’s talk about conjunctivitis due to infection.
To begin with the symptoms of pinkeye are … you guessed it, a pink eye! The white part of the eye, the sclera, takes on a pinkish tinge or sometimes a more severe bloodshot appearance that can be described more like redeye. The eyes can feel itchy, irritated and be sensitive to light. Some people will experience other cold-like symptoms including runny nose, sore throat, and possibly a fever.
In most cases the infection is viral, so from an allopathic point of view there isn’t much that can be done. All treatment is supportive, although if a viral infection goes on long enough it could become bacterial. In that case anti-bacterial eye drops are needed. There are a few natural treatments that can be very effective in helping the infection resolve quickly and without complications. Vitamin A or Beta-carotene as well as and Vitamin C help support the immune system and fight infection. Foods high in Beta-carotene are sweet potato, carrots and pumpkin. Vitamin C can be found in kiwis, berries, and greens like broccoli and kale. The herb aptly named eyebright, specifically targets the eyes. You can prepare a concentrated infusion with one teaspoon of herb per half cup of boiling water. After letting it sit for a good 15 minutes you’re ready to treat the eyes. Get 6 clean cotton balls, dip a cotton ball in the warm solution and wipe the affected eye from the inner corner to the outer corner. Use 3 cotton balls per eye and remember to use a fresh cotton ball each time. If you don’t happen to have eyebright lying around your home, chamomile is another great option. Sea salt can also be used, add ¼ of a teaspoon of salt to ½ a cup of warm water.
Finally, keep in mind that pinkeye is extremely contagious so it’s best to keep your child at home until the infection completely clears up. Reminding kids not touch their eyes and to wash their hands frequently with hot soapy water is extremely important. My son doesn’t enjoy hand washing so I find the alcohol based hand sanitizers work really well. He thinks it’s fun! And of course I couldn’t end this blog post without saying that rest and relaxation helps the body recoup. So let your kids sleep in, they need it! And if you can, why not sleep in too? Mom and dad could always use a few extra zzz’s. Am I right?
Dr. Melissa Rodriguez is a Naturopathic doctor who lives with her family in Beijing, www.drmelissarodriguez.com