Eyes irritated by overexposure to sunlight, an allergy, a draught or air conditioning can become red, itchy and stinging. These are often symptoms of conjunctivitis, which can also be caused by a bacterial or viral infection and is sometimes referred to as “pink eye.” In some cases the condition, characterized by inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids, can be treated at home with over-the-counter eye drops. Conjunctivitis is not always harmless, however.
“You should go to an ophthalmologist if symptoms last longer than two to three days, the eyes are painful or vision is impaired,” advised Erika Fink, president of Germany’s Federal Chamber of Pharmacists.
Vasoconstrictive eye-drops should not be used without prior consultation with an ophthalmologist. Although these “whiteners” rapidly remove redness, they can lead to constantly red eyes - known as “rebound redness” - after several weeks of use. Their use should therefore be limited to a week.
In cases of allergic conjunctivitis, cool compresses and special eye-drops containing antihistamines or other medications can help.
Household remedies such as applying a soaked tea bag of chamomile or other herb are unsuitable since they can introduce bacteria into the eye.
Over-the-counter “artificial tears” can relieve dry or irritated eyes. Available as eye-drops and in gel form, they keep eyes moist and lubricated. Because it is easy to apply them improperly, the patient should have an expert demonstrate their use.
Once opened, eye-drops keep for a limited time only - between a day and six weeks, depending on the type. So it is a good idea to make a note of the date of opening on the package.
Some preparations contain preservatives to protect against contamination. People who use eye-drops frequently should choose a brand without preservatives, which can gradually alter the composition of the tear film.