Healthy Articles Archive

The Eyes Have It - Part One

Larry Benjamin is a consultant eye surgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital who specialises in cataract, diabetic eye disease and microsurgical skills training. He is vice president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

An irritating and uncomfortable condition, conjunctivitis is easily treated - but are eye drops the best option?

If you've ever woken up with sore, itchy eyes, you'll know how uncomfortable conjunctivitis can be. Unfortunately, it is an extremely common condition and accounts for more than a third of all eye-related problems that GP's attend to. Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, the protective mucous membrane that covers the white of the eye. There are different types of conjunctivitis, which can affect how you treat it and the time it takes to clear up.

Viral conjunctivitis
This is the most common type and is often associated with colds and flu. Adenovirus, of which there are 39 types, is one of the most common viruses that cause viral conjunctivitis. Symptoms include watery eyes and non-sticky discharge. The eyes can become red, hot and swollen, and you may have typical cold symptoms. This type of conjunctivitis can spread rapidly between people from sneezing or contact, and is highly contagious. It can sometimes cause an epidemic.

Treat it 
There's no specific treatment from adenoviral conjunctivitis, although you can treat the symptoms with eye drops. Less serious cases will clear up after just a few days - but if you see no improvement at this stage, you should visit your GP. If you have the herpes simplex virus, that should be treated with antiviral drugs.

It is important that you practise good personal hygiene, so don't share face towels - especially if someone has conjunctivitis. Use disposable tissues when you dry your eyes and throw them away after use to limit contamination, and always dispose of any antibiotic eye drops once the conjunctivitis has been fully treated.

Natural helpers
Try these tips from Peter Jackson-Main, a naturopath and lecturer in Herbal Medicine and Iridology at The College of Naturopathic Medicine (

Fennel is an astringent and so ideal for bathing eyes to clear away mucus and helping to reduce redness and inflammation.

Lutein is an antioxidant found in dark green, red and orange vegetable, or can be taken as a supplement. Studies have shown it can help to keep eyes healthy.

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