This is inflammation of the eyelids, usually due to infection or allergy. The eyelids are red and swollen, and can feel irritated or sore. There may be a pus-like discharge causing sticking of the eyes and lashes after sleep, as in conjunctivitis.

Herbal treatment of conjunctivitis and blepharitis

Both conjunctivitis and blepharitis are treated similarly. Even if symptoms are confined to one eye it is always best to treat both eyes to prevent the spread of infection.

• When conjunctivitis occurs in young babies the best remedy is mother’s milk. One drop in each eye should clear it quickly. Colostrum has been found to have half the in vitro activity of gentamicin against Staphylococcus aureus and coliform organisms – supporting its use as a first-line treatment.

• For older children, bathe the eyes three times a day with a herbal infusion prepared using previously boiled or distilled water, or alternatively use a decoction of chamomile, chickweed (Stellaria media), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), elder-flowers, eyebright (Euphrasia off.), golden seal (Hydrastis canadensis), marigold, marshmallow (Althea off.), plantain, raspberry leaves (Rubus off.) or rosemary. The combination of anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects of chamomile, make it an effective and gentle topical treatment.

• Golden seal is an American herb and an effective antiviral remedy with a long history of use by the Native Americans for treating infections and eye conditions. It contains an alkaloid, berberine, which has well-documented antimicrobial effects. It is used in Germany as a treatment for hypersensitive eyes, inflammatory conditions of the eyelids, chronic and allergic conjunctivitis.

• A combination of chamomile, eyebright and marigold is an excellent recipe for sore, inflamed eyes, but any of the above herbs may be used singly or in combinations. Teabags of any of these can be soaked in boiling water, taken out when lukewarm and placed over the eye for 5-10 minutes – a different teabag should be used for each eye so as not to spread the infection.

• Distilled witch hazel or rosewater can also be beneficial combined with herbal infusions, decoctions or tinctures. For example, mix 10 drops of eyebright tincture in 3 tbsp (55 ml) of rosewater. A sterilized eye bath can be used by children who are old enough to manage it. For younger children, use cotton wool – separate pieces for each eye – to wipe the eyes from the outer part of the eye towards the nose.

It is always best to treat the child internally at the same time to enhance the immune system’s ability to deal with infection, inflammation or allergy, and to treat the eyes specifically.

• Teas of chamomile, cleavers (Galium aparine), echinacea, elderflowers, eyebright or hyssop (Hyssopus off.), can be given three times daily, singly or in combination. Always make sure that eyebright forms part of the prescription.

For repeated bouts of conjunctivitis or blepharitis and suspected allergic response, it is important to isolate the allergen and remove it as far as possible.

• Use chamomile tea to bathe the eyes, and infusions of chamomile, yarrow or lemon balm internally three times a day.

• Recommend plenty of foods containing vitamins C, A and B and supplements of vitamin C and garlic. Whole milk, carrots, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes are all high in vitamin A. Green leafy vegetables, milk, almonds, citrus fruits and bananas are all rich in vitamin B2.

• As this infection is so contagious, good hygiene is vital to stop it from spreading to other members of the household. Separate towels should be used and all linen washed on a hot wash. (See also Allergies, Candidiasis, Hayfever and Treatment of Infections)