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Light on Pink Eye: Chinese medicine for conjunctivitis

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis is very common. Not all cases are due to poor hygiene or bacteria!

Pink eye is an infection of the conjunctiva, a membrane that gives the eyelid a layer of moist lining.

The conjunctiva is more exposed to the exterior environment than any other part of the body and susceptible to more microbes than any other membrane.

In this article, we will shed some light on pink eye, and see what conventional and Chinese medicine treatments look like.

Symptoms of Conjunctivitis

Pink eye infection generally starts in one eye and easily spreads to the other eye. Symptoms include:

  • red, irritated eyes

  • sticky eyelids in the morning, from night discharges

  • sensitivity to light

  • burning or itching of the eye

  • feeling of griminess

  • stabbing pain

  • tearing

  • sensation of foreign body inside the eyes

Symptoms of pink eye should go away within 3 to 7 days. If the symptoms persist longer than that you should see your eye doctor.

Types of Conjunctivitis

young woman wiping her infected red eye
  • Allergic conjunctivitis

  • Viral conjunctivitis can occur along with colds or flu and is contagious. Most often, rubbing the eyes with contaminated hands causes it to spread.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis generally requires antibiotics for treatment.

  • Neonatal conjunctivitis : passed from the mother's birth canal.

  • Chemical origins may be due to an acidic or alkaline material getting in the eye.

  • Repeated conjunctivitis can be due to chronic dry eyes. Our tears contain natural antibiotics that help neutralize normal bacteria around our eyes. With less tears, come fewer natural antibiotics.

Causes of Pink Eye


Infections, including infected insect bites and scratches, are a common cause of conjunctivitis.

  • Bacteria. Bacteria, such as pneumococcus, staphylococcus, or streptococcus, are the cause of some cases. Bacterial conjunctivitis is more common in children.

  • Virus. Pink eye can also be caused by an adenovirus that spreads by many means, including swimming pools, wet towels, or touching your eyes with dirty hands. Viral conjunctivitis is more common in adults.


Insect bites, debris, and rubbing the eyes can contribute to pink eye. Chronic dry eyes may contribute to the cause.

The tear film has protective, lubricating, nutritional, and antimicrobial functions, & plays an important role in visual acuity. A lack of natural tears reduces our ability to fight bacterial infection.

Drugs that can cause dry, irritated eyes include antihistamines, acne medicine, antidepressants, Parkinson's medications, sleeping pills, birth control pills, blood pressure medications, pain relievers such as NSAIDS (for example, ibuprofen), and nasal decongestants.

Conventional Treatment

  • sulfa-based eyedrops. These usually work within three days.

  • antibiotic eyedrops or ointment is prescribed; these only work with bacterial infections.

  • Antihistamines or steroids may be prescribed by an eye doctor and should only be used under the doctor’s direction. Whenever taking antibiotics, make sure you take probiotics as well.

Diet & Nutrition

woman eating yogurt

Yogurt. The acidophilus in yogurt combats the bacterial infection. For that reason, we also suggest acidophilus supplements. Eat 1/2 cup of yogurt with the live cultures three times a day or take an acidophilus supplement (with about six billion live or probiotic organisms) three times a day.

Yogurt can also be used in a soothing compress to the eyes. You don't need to put the yogurt directly in your eyes, but instead, use it in a compress.

  • Vitamin A. Vitamin A is especially important in promoting health in all skin and membrane tissues, including the conjunctiva of the eyelids. Do not take vitamin A if you are pregnant or have Stargardt's.

  • Vitamin B Complex. Conjunctivitis can be triggered by a vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency, but supplementing with the entire B complex can increase the availability of vitamin B2 without inducing deficiencies of the other B vitamins. Riboflavin plays an essential role in maintaining the structure and function of the ocular surface. Riboflavin deficiency induces ocular surface damage.

Natural washes and herbal compresses

Herbs can be boiled in a tea, such as burdock, chamomile, chrysanthemum flower, eyebright, echinacea, goldenseal, marigold and red raspberry leaf. (read our article on how to use tea bags for the eyes)

woman with tea bags on her eyes
  1. Heat a cup of water to boil. You can add 5 MSM eye-drops

  2. Dip a clean washcloth into the cooled liquid and place over affected eye for 5 minutes, 2-3 times per day. Keep eye closed during application of the compress.

  3. Continue for 1-2 weeks until condition improves.

  4. If problems persists or gets worse, contact your eye doctor.

Chinese medicine's view and treatment

Different patterns

Chinese herbal formulas are great at support your body against viral infections. Our prescriptions will differ depending on each patients' particular set of symptoms

  • Wind-Heat is the most common pattern for pink eye. Patients will feel a literal sensation of wind rushing into and irritating the eye. Other symptoms might include slight fever and chills, headache, thirst etc.

  • Toxic wind heat: This is more severe than the previous one. Symptoms include obvious redness, swelling and pain of the eye, yellow or green thick eye discharge, lacrimation, suppuration with severe chills, photophobia, severe headache

  • Internal heat in the lungs and stomach: This is a predisposition to external pathogens that will make inflammation worse. Symptoms include the general red and itchy eyes plus sensations of heat, constipation, thirst, dark urine, and a rapid pulse.

  • Lung Qi deficiency (recurring infections) This is Chinese medicine's way of saying that the body has difficulty fighting off harmful bacteria and viruses.

Acupuncture treatments

woman with acupuncture needles around her eyes

The acupuncture treatment will focus on releasing excess heat from the eye area and bolstering the immune system. A patient can expect an acupuncture needle to be placed on the face.

One excellent choice is a point called Yu Yao. It is located directly above the pupil, in the middle of the eyebrow. Due to its close proximity to the eyes, it is able to efficiently drive out excess Heat from the area. As the Heat leaves, symptoms such as redness, itchiness and pain should subside.

Chinese Patent Medicines

  • Eye drops containing pearl powder: Zhen Zhu Ming Mu Di Yan Ye, "Pearl Eye Drops"

  • Bi Yan Pian

This formula is traditionally used for allergies and stuffy sinuses, however it is also very helpful for relieving red and itchy eyes.

Ingredients : Cang er zi, Xin yi hua, Lian qiao, Fang feng, Bai zhi, Zhi mu, Gan cao, Jing jie, Ye ju hua, Wu wei zi, Jie geng

A study in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, Biyan Pian was found to be effective in treating symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis, which include red, teary eyes.

And remember, talk to your acupuncturist !

No matter where you are in your eye health journey,

if you need support, we can help.

In addition to our own team of specialized acupuncturists, we are well-connected within the Los Angeles- Pasadena area community to help you

find the right integrative and holistic care for you.

On our website, you can learn more about our services, and book an appointment.

If you have more questions please call our front desk, at 626-841-2991, or email us.


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