The first time one of my kids got pinkeye, I did what we’ve all been taught to do. I took him to the doctor for a treatment. But instead of helping my baby boy, the medicine the doctor gave him caused a very serious reaction. (You can read about the ordeal in my 2009 article, Don’t Be Afraid To Question.) Desperate for a safer alternative, I began my search for natural remedies for pinkeye.
Over the years I’ve successfully treated pinkeye with home remedies more times than I can recall. As a matter of fact, for the past week and a half I’ve been treating my family for conjunctivitis as it has passed from kid to kid and then on to me. So this topic is fresh on my mind!
I’ll share with you the four tried and true remedies I always rely on, but please remember that I am not a doctor and am not giving medical advice. The following is for educational purposes only. What works for me might not work for you, so use your own judgment and if in doubt consult a medical professional.
How to Prevent Pink Eye
The easiest way to prevent pink eye is to keep your hands and face as clean as possible. If you have allergies, be sure you are using allergic medications or home remedies to help reduce your reaction. Stay away from your triggers whenever possible, too!
You can also wear glasses, if you normally wear contact lenses, to let your eye heal and prevent the infection from spreading (or from acquiring an infection from somebody else). Splash your face frequently with cold water to help soothe the area and wash bacteria and allergens away from your eye.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen, as this will help bolster your immune system. A strong immune system can help to fight off both viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, and will also help reduce your likelihood of contracting other diseases.
The Basics of Pink Eye
Pink eye is basically an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva that lines your eyelid. This causes the small blood vessels in your eyes to become swollen and inflamed, which is why they appear red or “pink.”
Pink eye is annoying and painful, but is not life threatening. It usually does not affect your vision, but it is highly contagious. If you have pink eye, you will have symptoms like redness, itchiness, a gritty feeling, tearing, and even discharge.
Pink eye can be either viral or bacterial (the latter of which tends to be more goopy), and can last anywhere from 5-7 days to 3 weeks. You can also have allergic conjunctivitis, which is caused by a foreign agent like pollen or dander, and is generally less prolonged. Babies sometimes get pink eye from an incompletely opened tear duct.
Viral conjunctivitis is the most common cause of pink eye. It may come accompanied by a respiratory infection or cold, so you might have other symptoms as well, like a sore throat or congestion.
Bacterial conjunctivitis is also very common, and can be accompanied by cold-like symptoms as well. However, this type of conjunctivitis is caused by – you guessed it – bacteria. Rubbing your eyes when your hands are dirty or wearing dirty contact lenses can cause this type of conjunctivitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis can be in one or both eyes. It can often be treated with antihistamines and inflammation-fighting drugs, but these are hard to come by if you’re living on a remote homestead. Allergic conjunctivitis is a response to an allergy-causing substance and triggers the cells in the mucosal lining of your eyes to release histamines. This causes red eyes as well as itching, sneezing, and inflammation.
Finally, you can also get pink eye from irritation. This is the easiest cause of pink eye to pinpoint, because you will likely remember if you splash a foreign chemical or get a foreign object into your eye. This usually clears up without treatment in a day or so.
It’s extremely important to keep your hands washed, pillow cases clean, and use good sanitary habits to prevent further spread of pinkeye as it’s highly contagious. Although even still it can be extremely hard to contain, especially in children! Pinkeye can easily infect both eyes if you rub the infected one and then touch the other without washing your hands first.
Because pink eye usually does not cause other long-term issues, most treatment of pink eye revolves around symptom relief and making yourself comfortable. Artificial tears are a good remedy to keep the eye moist to help flush out the yuckiness, and antibiotic drops are a good way to reduce the bacteria and lessen your pain.
But if you are a long way from a drug store, that might not be an option. Here’s where home remedies come into play. Plus, antibiotic drops are really only needed if you have a bacterial infection – they won’t touch a viral or allergic infection.
Keep the area as clean as possible by wiping them with a wet cloth or applying a cold compress a few times a day. This will also help to keep you comfortable. Some homesteaders have recommended applying slices of cold raw potatoes or cucumbers to the eye as well – I haven’t tried this, but I imagine the cool firmness would be rather soothing!
If you wear contact lenses, throw them out and don’t wear them again until the infection is totally healed. Don’t touch your eyes, and wash your hands frequently. Don’t share towels or washcloths with others, and make sure you keep your pillowcase clean. If you wear makeup, throw it away.
Thankfully, pink eye usually does not require a doctor’s visit. While a doctor can diagnose and treat a pink eye infection a bit more quickly, you can easily treat a pink eye infection on your own with a few quick and easy home remedies.
12 Natural Remedies for Pinkeye
Remedy #1- Breast milk
If you are fortunate enough to have breast milk on hand, I’d suggest that you try this remedy first. It works great, and doesn’t have any grit or sting. Put a couple of drops of warm milk into the infected eye several times a day. If you’re taking the milk out of the fridge or freezer, knock the chill off by warming it just a tad bit on the stovetop. Do NOT microwave the milk, as this will kill the healing properties that you want to help fight the infection. Test the milk on the underside of your wrist to be sure it isn’t the slightest bit too hot before dropping any into your child’s eye. It’s helpful to keep a bag of frozen breast milk for just such an occasion, if you have access to it.
Remedy #2- Chamomile Tea Bags
Chamomile Tea bags work good for children who can sit still for 10 min. or so with the bags on their eyes. When my daughter got pinkeye I had her lay her head on my lap, put the warm tea bags over her eyes, and rubbed her hair while I made up a fantastical story about her. This helped her to be still and relax, and she actually looked forward to her treatments. I would squeeze the bags a little to get some of the tea into the corner of her eyes. Prepare the bags as if you are making tea, by soaking them in boiling hot water for a couple of minutes. Then cool to a nice warm before placing them on your child’s eyes.
Remedy #3- Melaleuca and Lavender Essential Oils
Melaleuca or Lavender essential oil can be diluted in coconut or almond oil and rubbed around the outside of the eye (over the brow bone, and underneath the eye along the sinus cavities). Do this several times a day to help your body fight unwanted pathogens. Never get essential oils directly in your eyes! If you accidentally get it in your eyes, drop milk in your eye to relieve the burning. You can also diffuse these oils at nighttime to benefit from them aromatically as well. I wouldn’t recommend rubbing essential oils on a young child’s face as they may inadvertently rub it into their eyes.
Be sure you are using a high quality essential oil to ensure you are getting the real deal. Cheap oils are not only less effective, they can actually be harmful to your body.
Remedy #4- Eyebright (Euphrasia) Herb
Eyebright tea is another of my favorite remedies for pinkeye. You can usually find it at herbal stores or online. I like to use eyebright tea bags, but you can also make an eye wash with the powdered form of the herb. If using tea bags, brew the tea as you would normally to drink it, then place the warm, wet tea bags on the affected eyes for 10 minutes 3x a day.
Drink the tea for internal support as well. To make an eyewash with powdered eyebright, mix about 1/4 tsp to about 1/4 cup of warm water, and stir to dissolve. For children, I use an eyedropper to administer a couple of drops of the liquid to the corner of his/her eye and open the eye so that some of the drops get in. It’s a little gritty, which is why I prefer the tea bags, especially for kids.
Remedy #5 – Green Tea
Green tea is chock full of bioflavonoids, which are rich compounds with vitamin-like qualities. Green tea is great for your gut health, immune system, and weight loss, but also has powerful benefits for treating just about any kind of infection.
Green tea helps to relieve irritation and inflammation, and while it will make you feel better when simply ingested, it can also be used as an external salve. Simply dip a green tea bag in boiled water and place it on the infected eye or eyes (just make sure you’ve let it cool for a minute so you don’t burn your eyeballs!). You can also dip a clean washcloth in freshly brewed green tea and use it as a warm compress.
Remedy #6 – Holy Basil
This isn’t your regular garden variety basil, but instead holy basil, also known as tulsi. This variety of basil is well known for its healing and medicinal properties, containing strong anti-inflammatory agents that help protect your eyes from further damage and also heal the damage that has already occurred.
Holy basil can fight both viral and bacterial infections in the eyes, as well as fungal infections (which are incredibly rare but difficult to treat). To use holy basil, soak a few leaves in hot water for a few minutes. Then flush your eyes with the cooled solution, or create a warm compress by dipping a clean washcloth in the water.
Remedy # 7 – Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is another good choice, as it contains powerful compounds like aloin. These compounds have strong antibacterial and antiviral properties, and can reduce the inflammation in your eye quite significantly. You might even notice that your eye heals more quickly as a result of applying aloe vera gel. While many home remedies aren’t exactly backed by scientific research, aloe vera is – several studies have proven that aloe vera extracts can be safely used on human corneas, and can help lessen inflammation in outer portions of the eye.
Remedy # 8 – Turmeric
Turmeric is well-known in the health circle for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and it also has antibacterial properties. This is true regardless of whether it is eaten or applied topically. Mix two tablespoons of ground turmeric with a cup of hot water. Soak a washcloth in the brew and then use it as w arm compress. It might sting a little bit at first, but your eye will be feeling better in no time!
Remedy # 9 – Neem oil
Neem oil is found on tons of homesteads because it is a great remedy for getting rid of pests and disease in your garden without having to use chemicals. This natural remedy has been around for thousands of years, and has powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. All you need to do is a dab a bit of neem oil around your eye to help relieve the itching and irritation associated with pink eye. Nee oil has soothing properties and won’t make you sicker, plus, you likely already have it kicking around your house somewhere.
Remedy # 10 – Honey
Honey can also sting a bit, but is a fantastic way to reduce the symptoms associated with pink eye. To make a poultice, all you need to do is mix about a teaspoon of honey with a tablespoon of filtered water. Only use raw, local honey, and place it near the tear duct. Your eye will tear up quite a bit, but honey is great at removing toxins and clearing your eye of any infection.
Remedy # 11 – Lavender
Lavender has strong fumes, so if you use this remedy you may want to just paint it around your eyes, and not put it directly on them. It can help lessen your symptoms, particularly the itching, and will also calm any anxiety associated with your infection.
Remedy # 12 – Salt Water Wash
This remedy is the last one on the list, but in all honesty should probably be the first. Generally, if you are suffering from any ocular symptoms – whether they are caused by allergies, a virus, bacteria, or even a foreign body – the best first line of defense is to apply a saline rinse to the eye. This helps to flush out toxins and to reduce any discomfort. Salt water is incredibly soothing and will help your eye begin to heal.
Unfortunately, saline washes sold at the grocery or drug store are often very expensive, and if you live far from town, running out to the local pharmacy is often not an option. Therefore, I found an easy remedy that’s not difficult to replicate at home. It won’t contain the lubricants and medications for eye issues, but it will contain the key ingredient that is necessary to heal your eye: salt.
All you need to do is mix a few teaspoons of salt with sterilized water. If you have an eye dropper handy, this will help you get the mixture into your eye, but if not, just wipe it around your eyes and try to blink as much as possible of it into your eye.
Be consistent and do as many of the remedies as possible several times a day. I might do breast milk in the morning and evening, chamomile or eyebright tea in the middle of the day and again right before bed, and essential oils at bedtime. Remember to use good hygiene practices.
Wash your hands any time you touch the affected eye. I would also bulk up on immune support, such as homemade Immune Boosting Elderberry Syrup and Herbal Honey Blend to help your body fight from the inside out.
If the infection seems to be getting worse or does not clear up on its own after a week or so, I would consider going to see the doctor for more aggressive treatment.
This is especially true if you have a compromised immune system or are pregnant. If you have severe pain the eye, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, or a pre-existing eye condition….again, all good reasons to head to the doctor without delay.
Remember that over half of all pink eye cases clear up within ten days without any treatment at all, so the likelihood of needing medical attention is slim. Many medicines, like antihistamines, have unpleasant side effects like blurred vision and grogginess, while antibiotics can cause resistance and lead to further complications.
Whenever possible, avoid conventional medical treatment for pink eye, as home remedies are often safer and can lead to quicker, complication-free healing.
What are your favorite tried and true natural remedies for pinkeye?
updated 08/04/2018 by Rebekah White