Care Of The Eyes

The Function Of The Eyes

As one of the sense organs, the eyes are intimately connected with the brain and can speak volumes about our state of mind. Positive and negative emotions like joy, excitement and happiness as well as fear, anxiety, anger, grief, and suffering can be reflected through the eyes, partly because they affect the facial muscles around the eyes. The expression in the eyes is one of the ways in which a parent first tells if their child is off-colour or unhappy.

Eyes have other functions. They are responsible for connecting us to light, which is responsible not only for vision but also influences our physical and mental well-being. Sunlight affects the secretion of endorphins that give us a feeling of well-being. During the winter months in the northern hemisphere, the many hours of darkness can predispose to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and reduced resistance to infection, so it is important to encourage children to spend time playing or walking outside in the fresh air and sunlight, even on a dull day.

The production of tears and crying is another important function of the eyes. Tears produced when we cry contain endorphins, opiate-like substances, which help us to release tension and calm us down. In addition, tears are constantly washed in tiny amounts across the eyes to protect the eye from damage and to clear away debris.

The eyelids also protect the eyes. The inner and outer surfaces of each eye are covered with the delicate conjunctiva and tears produced by tear glands lubricate the conjunctiva and drain into the channels passing into the nose. The eyelids and conjunctiva are prone to various problems, which can be successfully treated using herbs.

Elderberries, bilberries and blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are rich in antioxidants, known as anthocyanosides, and help to protect the eyes. There has been a wide range of research on the properties of anthocyanosides. These compounds appear to help support repair and synthesis of new capillaries and thus have particular relevance in disorders of the retina. In a review of 30 trials Vaccinium anthocyanosides demonstrated promise for improving night vision though, as with much herbal research, better designed and larger trials are still required. A recent double-blind placebo-controlled trial of blackcurrant anthocyanosides concluded that they significantly helped reduce visual fatigue in video display terminal related eye strain. Anthocyanosides contain or boost the action of a molecule known as glutathione, a key antioxidant found in the aqueous humour and necessary for prevention of a variety of eye problems including cataracts in later life. Other herbs with a similar action include astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus), milk thistle seed (Cardus / Silybum marianus), turmeric root, garlic and wheat sprouts.

Ayurvedic approach

According to the ancient Rishis of Ayurveda, our five senses are the gifts of the Gods of the five elements. The God of the Sky carries sound to our ears, the God of Air gives our skin the sensation of touch and feeling, the God of Fire draws the light of vision into our eyes, the God of Water brings taste to our tongues, the God of Earth brings smells to our nose.

One of the original branches of Ayurvedic medicine recorded in the Charaka Samhita, the earliest Ayurvedic textbook dating from around 2500 BC, is the Shalakya Tantra, the study of the mouth, eyes, ears, nose and throat. According to Ayurveda, observation of the eyes is very important as a diagnostic tool for imbalance elsewhere in the body. The eyes are mainly related to Pitta as they are concerned with light and perception, functions governed by Pitta. Radiation of light and heat is the province of Pitta dosha and according to Tillotson “the eye captures within itself the fire of the universe, allowing perception of the constant and ever-changing flux of colors and shapes of objects … because it captures fire and heat, the physical structure of the eyes requires immersing the cornea, lens and retina in the cooling aqueous and vitreous humors”. This is why the eye is so sensitive to excess heat and light.

Pitta types certainly tend to be sensitive to heat and light and are more likely to need glasses than other dosha types. When Pitta is disturbed it can weaken the eyes. Excess Pitta is indicated by pink, red or yellowish eyes with a burning sensation and photophobia. Most inflammatory diseases of the eyes such as conjunctivitis are considered to be Pitta problems.

An excess of Kapha can also have a negative effect on vision as it suppresses Pitta. Sinus congestion can also affect vision. When there is excess Kapha the eyes tend to be watery, mucousy or dull. Dryness or tremors of the eyes indicate Vata disturbance.

Ayurvedic treatment of eye problems

• In India there is an ancient practice of looking into the distance at the moon to benefit from its cooling rays and physicians recommend staring at a ghee lamp for 20 minutes a day to improve tejas or the lustre of the eyes and to promote good vision. To make a ghee lamp place a cotton wick in a small bowl and add ghee. Apply a little ghee to the end of the wick and light it. The lamp needs to be placed 2-3 feet away, any glasses removed and the patient needs to stare at the flame without blinking for 2-3 minutes.

• Ghee itself is considered to balance Pitta and to be the most important food for the eyes. Taking 1-2 tsp twice daily is believed to improve eyesight. Apparently the older the ghee the better its properties.

• Triphala ghee is a special formula for the eyes which can be used to treat infectious conditions and also as a general tonic to the eyes.

• Triphala powder mixed with water is used as a wash for inflamed eyes. Boil ½ tsp of Triphala in a cup of water for 3 minutes, cool it and strain through double or triple-folded cheesecloth or a paper coffee filter to clear all particles from the liquid. The eyes can then be washed.

• Chamomile and rose flowers are also suitable eye washes for pain, irritation or inflammation of the eyes. Chamomile infusion can be used in a sterilized eyebath or two drops of distilled rosewater can be put into each eye morning and night.

• Aloe vera gel or ghee can be applied to the eyelid.

• A paste of mung bean flour is used for soothing the eyes.

• Chyawan prash is an excellent tonic food for the eyes since amalaki is the main ingredient and is considered nourishing for the eyes.

• Amalaki juice with honey can also be used for conjunctivitis.

• In India an extract of darvi root (Berberis asiatica) is used dissolved in water to wash the eyes every 5-7 days. This is considered to help keep the duct system open and to cure and prevent conjunctivitis.

• Other anti-Pitta herbs are considered good for improving vision and prevention of eye problems. Common formulae include Sudarshan and Maha Sudarshan. These herbs include Swertia chireta, which cool and cleanse the eyes.

• Certain foods also have an affinity for eye tissue. The link between vitamin A and vision is well documented and there are certain carotenoids that are particularly beneficial. Lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene all help to prevent eye disease. Spinach, kale and mustard green are high in lutein and zeaxanthin, while tomatoes, pink grapefruit, guava and watermelon are rich in lycopene. It is worth noting that cooking lycopenerich foods like tomatoes in oil such as olive oil increases its bioavailability. An old recipe to promote good vision and balance the doshas, recommended for children to take daily is: two medium-sized carrots grated and cooked in milk on a low heat for 15 minutes with five ground almonds and one ground cardamom.

• Crying is good for cleansing the eyes and chopping a raw onion is considered therapeutic as it increases lacrimation and thereby clears debris from the eyes. It is not considered beneficial to withhold the urge to cry. Not only can this, like suppression of other natural urges, disturb Vata dosha, but also it is said to impair the function of the lacrimal glands and may lead to dry eye problems.

Myopia or shortsightedness is known as dristi dosha. It is caused by the lens of the eye being overly convex or the ball of the eye being too long, so that rays of light are brought to focus before they reach the retina. Apart from blurred vision, myopia can cause watering of the eye due to strain, itching and a sensation of heaviness or burning in the eyes. Headaches and insomnia can also be related. According to Ayurveda factors that predispose to this problem include nervous debility, tendency to constipation and susceptibility to cold, which tend to predominate in Vata types.

• Giving Triphala at night before bed to cleanse the bowels is the first line of treatment. It can also be used to bathe the eyes and needs to be continued for a few months.

• The other medicine of choice is liquorice: ¼ – ½ tsp of the powder is mixed with ½ tsp of ghee and \ tsp of honey and given twice daily on an empty stomach.

• If there is a susceptibility to cold or nasal congestion 2-3 drops of shadbindu oil can be inserted into each nostril daily.