How NOT to Treat Eye Infections

Spoiler alert: This is more of a narrative of my mishaps, and does not end in a solid conclusion about the correct way to handle eye infections with a corn allergy.

I don’t know why, but for some reason after going most of my young/young adult life without an eye infection, I have gotten bacterial pinkeye TWICE in the last three years! The first time the cause was obvious- a coworker had children with the infection, and I managed to catch it from her despite my best efforts at handwashing and avoidance.

This time? I don’t even know what happened. I wasn’t doing things considered bacterially risky such as hanging out with petri dishes small children or rubbing my eyes excessively. Probably I just touched the wrong grocery cart or doorknob and then had an itch, and my body has been pretty susceptible to infection lately due to a convergence of allergens. Now, it is totally possible to have non-bacterial conjuctivitis, however given the onset and symptoms, I felt pretty sure it was bacterial.


The last time I had a bacterial eye infection, I was *way* less sensitive to corn derivatives. I got some prescription eye drops and they didn’t do much for me- 2 weeks later I still had the infection. So we moved on to an ointment, and that worked within 7 days.

This time I had a lot more to think about, though, since many eye drops have corn derivatives such as mannitol and propylene glycol in them. Both are substances that I  tolerated before, but as of my uptick in sensitivity in July of 2012, I have had pretty severe reactions to them in products applied to other mucus membranes such as nasal sprays. (Remind me to blog about my run-in with Afrin “extra moisturizing” sometime.)

I looked up available antibiotic eyedrops, and sure enough, full of corn. Fortunately, the ointments were just the antibiotic in a base of white petrolatum and mineral oil. *Relatively* free of corn, but not totally.

The problem is, all antibiotic drugs are a product of a microorganism, and those microorganisms have to be fed a sugar. That sugar is usually corn glucose. It’s well-known that many corn allergics react to corn sugars, even the purest products available, and even if the bugs break down and convert what they eat, it’s still likely that some of the medium will be left behind in the final product. So really, there is no completely corn free antibiotic that I know of.

That said, they are sometimes necessary, so in some situations, the best you can do is just suck it up and take the corny medication, and use antihistamines to mitigate any reactions. That’s what I figured I had to do for the eye infection, so I went to the walk-in clinic and got my meds.

To cover my bases and avoid taking unnecessary medication, I did try doing a boric acid eye wash: I boiled two shot glasses (I don’t keep eye cups around, but shot glasses worked fine) to sterilize them, then dissolved 1 teaspoon of pharmaceutical-grade boric acid powder in 1 cup of distilled water and “soaked” my eyes for 1 minute by tipping my head down to rest my eyesockets against the shot glasses, opening my eyes, and rolling them around. I did this morning and night for 3 days, but did not see much improvement. (Actually I did like 1/8th of a tsp in 2 cups of water, because I got some crappy instructions on the internet, so probably it didn’t work because the solution was too weak. But to avoid confusion I wrote the remedy down as it’s supposed to be rather than as I did it.)

So I started on the antibiotics. Google tells me that once you start using the antibiotics, you should quit being contagious within 24 hours. Your infection should be cleared up in 3-4 days.

After the first dose of the antibiotic, I saw *significant* improvement overnight. However I never saw any further improvement after that. 8 days later, my infection was unchanged. My eyes were mildly swollen but not scary, just puffy lids and looked really tired, and felt constantly goopy but that could have been the ointment. In the mornings there was just a teensy bit of dried mucus built up.

I wondered if maybe the bacteria had been long gone, and at this point I was just dealing with inflamed conjunctiva from the corny antibiotics and/or the mineral oil being a general irritant. So I quit the ointment to see what would happen. The next morning my eyes were crusted almost shut and very swollen. They stayed that bad for the next 48 hours.

At this point I called my regular doctor for a follow-up appointment but wasn’t able to get in until the following week. In the meantime I figured I’d go ahead and try some of the natural remedies I’d read about.

Now there are a bunch out there, but I only tried one, so I don’t know about the rest: After boiling/sterilizing all of my instruments, I made a solution of about 50% raw honey and 50% distilled water. Since the raw honey I use was very hardened, I used a sterilized double boiler to melt it, only heating it just enough to get it soft since heating neturalizes the antibacterial components of honey. I made about 6 ounces total liquid, kept it just thin enough to be used in a dropper bottle without gunking it up, and put it in a sterile dropper bottle purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. Kept that in the fridge and did several drops in each eye morning and night. 3 days later, my infection was almost completely gone. Note that the drops do sting like crazy for about 3-5 seconds after use. I’d say the duration and degree of unpleasantness is about equivalent to pretty severe brain freeze. But it does pass.

There are also probably many ways to use this remedy. If you don’t have a dropper bottle you could probably just mix up  the honey and water each time and then sort of sploosh them into your eye with a cup, or make an eye wash out of shot glasses like I did with the boric acid. Keep in mind whatever instruments you use needs to be sterilized in boiling water first, but don’t boil the honey or immerse the honey in water until it’s been cooled, because the high temperatures will neturalize the goodness of the honey.

Before you get all excited, though, there’s more to this story. On day 3, I decided to do one last dose of the honey, and then call myself cured. About 2 hours after the dropper-dose of honey solution, I looked in the mirror and one of my eyes was *visibly* swollen. No goop, just the eyelid was puffy, and only the eyelid.

At that point I was like okay, maybe the honey didn’t work as well as I thought. I pondered moving on to other home remedies including coconut oil, but decided against that because I seem to react to ingested coconut, and also because I figured it was about time to quit putting random household products in my eye and go get a professional opinion from my family doctor, with whom I already had an appointment.

Unfortunately said family doc wasn’t really that helpful. He said he definitely didn’t think it was bacterial anymore, if it had been in the first place (I think it was but can’t prove it), and suggested soothing stuff instead of bacteria-fighting stuff: castor oil, hot compresses, and steam.

It is now 3 weeks later and my eyelids are still somewhat swollen. Hot compresses are helping but they never go completely down. However, I have a known mold problem in my house that has been remediated but there are clothes to wash and walls to wipe down and ducts to clean to totally remove all the spores, and the tree pollen is in FULL effect right now. People who don’t have bad allergies are having issues with it.

My verdict? I probably had a bacterial infection, and the ointment helped but then my eyes got irritated from the mild corniness/mineral oil in it. And the rest is just allergies and generalized inflammation. I just have to have puffy eyeballs for the rest of time. Oh well?

I am not a doctor or any kind of medical practitioner, so if you decide to try the raw honey remedy detailed here, use common sense, do your own research on the correct way to do so, and proceed at your own risk. 

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