Eye conditions

From styes to conjunctivitis, community pharmacist Carol Jackson advises on the most appropriate treatment

Maybe you have seen the tele­vision  adverts for a “new” eye drop available over-the-counter for  conjunctivitis. The active ingredient is chloramphenicol, a  bacteriostatic which means it prevents the growth, but does not kill, a  number of the bacteria known to cause conjunctivitis. It’s a useful  addition to the repertoire of conventional medicine available to a  pharmacist, but of the patients I’ve seen so far only a few would have  benefitted from the drops. The uses for homeopathic remedies are far  more wide-spread.

Danger signs 

Let’s first note the signs that would indi­cate when self-treatment should not be attempted:suspected or known presence of a foreign  body (though, in this instance, a dose of Silica would aid the removal  of said “body” by an appropriate practitioner); pain or swelling round the face not  associated with obvious trauma to the area, eye movement is restricted  (indicating cerebral involvement); vision affected or there is nausea and vomiting (as above);
the eye is “damaged”: the pupil is torn, irregular or not reactive to light; the cornea is cloudy; patient has glaucoma or you suspect glaucoma; patient has had recent eye surgery or laser treatment.
The conditions I will consider for  self-treatment are mostly acute and there­fore I’ve limited myself to a  few remedies reasonably easy to obtain on the high street.

Conjunctivitis 

Conjunctivitis comes in four varieties: viral, bacterial, allergic  and as a result of a foreign body causing abrasions. Physically the  signs are often difficult to distinguish. Allergic conjunctivitis would  be bilateral, produce watery discharge and be accompanied by itching.  The other conditions would probably start in one eye, the discharge  would be thicker and more sticky and the pain would be more burning and  stinging. But we mustn’t over-generalise and indeed the cause is not so important from a homeopathic point of view.

General measures 

The eyes have a great ability to heal themselves and conjunctivitis  is more often than not self-limiting. It helps to bathe the eyes as  often as possible with salt water ( a teaspoon to a pint of boiled and  cooled water), or, if the eyes are especially “sticky”, a mixture of  half milk to water, “sterilised” as above. Contact lenses should be  removed and discarded if possible or at least thor­oughly cleaned to  prevent re-infection.

Homeopathic treatment 

Apis mel is useful for allergic conjunc­tivitis. The conjunctiva are  bright red and very swollen, there seem to be water bags under the eyes  which leak excess hot fluid. There may be sudden piercing pains. Both  eyes are normally affected.With Arsenicum alb the conjunctiva is red, swollen and infected.  There is purulent discharge and a burning sen­sation, but warm  compresses ease the pain. The lids may be “crusty” and eye­lashes could  fall out. The patient is often panicky and not easily reassured.Argent nit presents a similar picture. The inner canthi of the eye  are particu­larly affected, becoming red and swollen. The patient will  be more wor­ried than panicky and will feel better for closing the eyes  and pressing them.Belladonna on the other hand pres­ents with a very hot, red, swollen  but essentially dry eye. The condition may have come on very suddenly  and any pain associated is throbbing. Character­istically the pupils are  dilated, staring and brilliant. The patient will be more cross than  panicky.Euphrasia and Allium cepa are normally associated with hay fever or  colds. They work almost as opposites. I remember which is which by  thinking of the affects of peeling strong onions. Burning nasal  discharge, but bland copi­ous tears (even though the eyes them­selves  will burn), that’s Allium or onion. Euphrasia is the other way round;  bland nasal discharge but burning tears which leave a “varnish” on the  face. In prac­tice, if people aren’t sure of their symp­toms I tell them  to try one and if it doesn’t work use the other. Not very sci­entific  but effective in an emergency!

The above remedies are the most common ones I recommend. But there  are special occasions when others are more appropriate. I’m thinking of  Nux vom for the “hangover” type of con­junctivitis; Rhus tox for  conjunctivitis associated with a rheumaticy cold, or Pulsatilla when  there is a general cold with bland yellowy discharges and the patient  feels better for rubbing the eyes, whether because of the pain or  because they are a mite weepy! Hepar sulp is indicated for severe  purulent discharge and pain such that the patient can’t even stand  drafts to their eyes; but very severe pain could also indicate a more  severe condition which should be referred. I usually recommend 30c potency to be taken every two hours, if  necessary for up to two days. Some patients pre­fer to apply something  directly to the eyes, in which case the tablets or pills can be  dissolved in a little suitably ster­ilised water and used as a wash. I  don’t think they work any better this way but there may be a  psychological advantage. If the condition is no better after two days  the patient should seek further advice from an appropriate practitioner.

Styes 

General measures

Cleaning the eyelids helps to release the blocked duct. Obviously  one must be careful, but my optician recommends gently wiping a cotton  bud soaked in a solution of baby shampoo. It sounds frightening and  stingy, but it works a treat. Remember it must be baby sham­poo (it is  alkaline as are the surfaces of your eyes). 

Homeopathic treatment

The classic remedy would be Graphites. It is linked to in-growing  eyelashes, blephritis (inflammation of the eyelids) and eczema; all  common causes of styes. But it is not a remedy you are sure to find in  your chemist or health food store. If you are prone to styes it may be  as well to acquire some from a specialist homeopathic supplier. Having  said that, Staphysagria is the remedy for recurrent styes.Sulphur is indicated for styes which are swollen and red, causing  burning and itching. The lids in this instance would be more oily than  dry. Pulsatilla styes are bland, pussy yellow affairs that cause little  pain and are usually associated with colds and general “un-wellness”.

Trauma                                                                                                                                               

General measures 

Make sure that there are none of the danger signs as at the beginning of  this article. A cold compress well help to pre­vent swelling, or better  still a compress of witch hazel lotion (Hamamelis).

Homeopathic treatment

Of course Arnica is the gold standard for trauma injuries, and  certainly if that’s what you have, give it; however eye injuries respond  better to Hamamelis for the bruising and Ledum if the skin has been  cut. Again these are not that easily found, but if you are expecting to  have eye surgery they can be taken as prophylactics. This includes use  for cos­metic surgery, as a colleague of mine will attest to!

Eye strain 

General Measures

Don’t do too much and whatever you’re doing, do it in good light! If  you suffer from eye strain regularly it’s important to have your eyes  checked by an opti­cian in case you need glasses or are not wearing the  correct prescription. The ones you can buy in many chemists etc are for  short term use only. They do not replace the need for proper optical  assessment.

Homeopathic treatment

As for all muscular strains Ruta grav would be the remedy of choice.  Twice daily dosing should be sufficient and it should not be used long  term.

Contact lenses

Just a brief note about contact lenses: they should be removed whilst  treat­ing any eye conditions, though the rem­edy itself will not damage  them.I have contact lenses myself and don’t like having to do without  them, but there are some particularly nasty bacteria associated with  long-term wear. If you have an infection associated with contact lenses  it should be treated with antibiotics.Particles stuck under a lens and rub­bing the cornea can quickly lead  to corneal ulcers. The lens should be taken out as soon as possible.  Calendula can be used to soothe these minor irritations. The lens should  be left out for at least a week to allow the corneal surface to repair.  Any major irritations, or where the lens was not removed quickly, need  to examined by an optician.And for those horrid occasions when a soft lens folds itself up and  hides under the upper lid, causing jammed-shut eyes, sweating and panic –  if you can see to find your remedies, use high potency Aconite. Failing  that, in my experience, sitting on the side of the bath and singing to  yourself usually works!

Carol Jackson MRPharmS DFHom (Pharm) is a community pharmacist.  One of the first group of pharmacists to pass the diploma exam for the  Faculty of Homeopathy, Carol advises her customers on homeopathy and  promotes it to the other health care professionals she works with.