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Recurring Pink Eye: Causes and Treatments

Pink eye is a common inflammatory eye disease that can be easy to treat and easy to prevent. But what if it keeps coming back? Read on to find out what TCM says about pink eye and how to treat it.

Pink eye image 2 compressed scaled

Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, refers to the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the membrane lining the eyelid and eyeball.

When small vessels within the membrane become irritated, they swell, causing the whites of the eyes to turn pink or reddish.

What are the causes of pink eye?

Western medicine states that the causes of pink eye vary: they can be viral or bacterial in nature, or else they might be an allergic reaction. In some cases, particularly in babies, it could be due to an incompletely opened tear duct.

Viral pink eye is the most common type of conjunctivitis, caused by the pathogen that causes runny nose and sore throat in people who have the common cold. It is the most contagious type as it spreads throughout schools and other crowded areas.

Bacterial conjunctivitis, on the other hand, as the name suggests, is caused by a bacterial infection. Despite this, it is still highly contagious. In some cases, pink eye-causing bacteria is the same as that which causes strep throat.

An allergic reaction to pollen, animal dander, smoke, and other environmental factors may surface as pink eye. This type is called allergic conjunctivitis and it’s not contagious.

What are the symptoms of pink eye?

Pink eye is usually characterised by the following symptoms:

  • Pink or redness in whites of the eye/s
  • Swelling of the eyelid and eyeball membrane
  • Itching and/or burning sensation
  • More tear production
  • Pus or mucus
  • Crusty eyelids or lashes
  • Feeling of having a foreign body in the eye

What causes recurrent pink eye?

Pink eye that comes back time and again may be caused by the following:

  • Re-infection by adenoviruses

Adenoviruses, apart from causing the common cold and accompanying symptoms such as sore throat, acute bronchitis, and pneumonia, also causes pink eye. If you have been infected before, you may be more likely to get infected again. 

  • Reinfection by bacterial strains

Bacteria, specifically Staphylococcus aureus, S. pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae, cause pink eye. Similar to the viral type, if you have had bacterial pink eye before, you have a higher risk of getting reinfected if you do not practice good hygiene, such as regular hand washing and not touching the eyes.

  • External factors

Pink eye can also recur due to environmental allergens, like smoke, animal dander, dust, pollen, and the like. Having foreign objects in the eye could also contribute to the recurrence of pink eye. If you use contact lenses but fail to clean them regularly, your risk for pink eye increases.

The TCM view on pink eye

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), pink eye may not be caused solely by factors listed above, but an indication that there may be an underlying problem with internal organs.

As it says in the Lingshu segment of the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine: “The eyes are infused and powered with the essence of all the vital viscera.”

In the TCM approach, pink eye could occur due to a merging of external Wind and Heat, or Fire pathogen that may be endogenous or exogenous. 

TCM physician, Brandon Yew, explained that pink eye may come from exposure to natural or manmade environments (Wind-Heat). It may also result from an imbalance of Yin and Yang in the visceral organs, particularly the Liver, Heart, and Lungs.

How can pink eye be treated?

Western treatments include the following:

  • Antibiotic/steroid drops
  • Antiviral eye drops
  • Allergy eye drops
  • Artificial tears

Most of the time, pink eye will resolve by itself, without need for medication. However, some viral cases may take up to three weeks to clear up. Bacterial pink eye could also go away without antibiotics or complications. Often, bacterial conjunctivitis gets better within 2 to 5 days, but it may take two weeks to be totally gone.

TCM treatments for pink eye

Based on TCM’s holistic approach, pink eye may be treated with the following herbal remedies:

Chrysanthemum (Ju Hua)

Chrysanthemums, particularly the yellow variety, can disperse wind and clear heat. White chrysanthemum helps sustain the Liver and and improves vision, while wild chrysanthemums get rid of heat and reduce toxicity.

Dandelion (Pu Gong Ying)

This herb clears fire-heat as well as heat-toxicity from the Lung, Liver, and stomach meridians.

Cassia seed (Jue Ming Zi)

Cassia seed clears wind-heat in the Liver and fights eye diseases caused by Liver fire, Wind-Heat, or Liver deficiency.

Peppermint (Bo He Ye)

Peppermint tea soothes symptoms caused by Wind-Heat in the head, eyes, and throat.

Mulberry (sang ye)

Mulberry leaves have many great properties. They help to clear Wind-Head that may cause dry eyes as well as dry lung cough. One of the best ways to fully experience their benefit is by brewing it in hot water and adding some honey.

Final thoughts

The approach to pink eye in TCM is a holistic one, taking into account the condition of certain internal organs or systems that may be the true root of this eye disease. It must be noted that these herbal treatments are for generic cases of pink eye and that its effectiveness varies from person to person. Always consult with your TCM physician before taking anything and never self-medicate.

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