Inflammation of the eyes

Inflammation of the eyes - catarrh - can be an allergic reaction or the result of external factors. The condition is annoying, but relatively easy to treat. If often lasts 7 days, but the infection may also attack the cornea with serious consequences.

Small foreign particles that end up in the eye will normally float into the corner of the eye with the lachrymal fluid from where they can be removed. Foreign objects, however, are not always directed away in this manner. The eye is very sensitive towards even the smallest externally approaching particles and infection or catarrh can easily occur if a foreign body or impurity like a dust particle gets stuck in the eye.

Scratches from foreign objects that get stuck to the white of the eye or on the pupil can result in a superficial damage to the cornea which will be a nuisance for one or more days but it will not necessarily cause infection. Bacteria, chlorine water, overexertion of the eyes, stress, and a reduced immune defence can result in infectious conditions of the eye.

An inflammation of the eyes can last from a day to a week. The symptoms are: Stinging, itching, pain, and a feeling of gravel (pus) in the eyes. The eyelid will become swollen and red and the eye will become more and more watery. Keeping the eye open can also be difficult and the eye can become sticky or totally close which can make vision difficult. The eye itself can also become slightly more red.

The infection often gets worse at night because the bacteria propagate when the eyes are closed and the infection is extremely contagious so you should be careful not to transmit infection from one eye to the other.

If the pus in the eye has a more mucous consistency and if the eye itches like an insect bite, it can be an indication of allergic eye catarrh.

Runny eyes or floods of tears can also be caused by an inflammation in the mucosa of the lachrymal canals after sinusitis.

If the air is very dry, the eye can become deficient in lachrymal fluid and cause inflammation of the eyes. This can happen in some diseases of the connective tissue, in Sjogren's syndrome where the blinking reflex of the eye does not function and in vitamin A deficiency. You can also see "Dryness of eyes ".

Other eye infections

The cornea
The cornea is the most external and therefore most exposed part of the eye. For this reason, it often becomes exposed to damages and bacterial infections. Foreign objects reaching the eye and penetrating the cornea can cause greyish white wounds to the cornea. Since the cornea is highly innervated, it is very sensitive to pain. Wounds to the cornea will usually result in a red, bloodshot eye that will be hypersensitive to light, as well as pain and a flood of tears.

Blurred vision or vision disturbances can occur and wounds to the cornea can in serious cases lead to blindness so it is important to contact a doctor quickly if you suffer from any of the mentioned symptoms. An infection that occurs in the cornea without the presence of an external damage is most often caused by a virus, e.g. the herpes simplex virus which often causes wounds to the cornea which can be difficult to locate.

The conjunctiva
The conjunctiva which coats the inside of the eyelid can become infected. The conjunctiva is the transparent membrane coating the inner surfaces of the eye and the frontal part of the eyeball.

Infection of the conjunctiva can be caused by foreign objects, various infections, and allergic reactions. The eye itches, becomes irritated, red, bloodshot, runny, and you will have a feeling of gravel in your eyes when you blink. In relation to bacterial infections, the eyelids can stick together when waking up in the morning.

Viral infections will cause an increased stream of tears and usually only affect one eye. Allergic reaction to e.g. chemical substances in cosmetics or pollen, for example, can be the cause of short or more long-lasting uncomfortableness. Only seldomly does an inflammation of the cornea lead to more serious complications.

The iris
An iris infection only rarely occurs, but can mostly be found among young adult people. The infection implicates a seepage of parts of the cells of the iris into the fluid of the anterior chamber of the eye. An opacity of the fluid will appear or an adhesion between the front of the lens and the iris will occur. This will result in an uneasiness which will be provoked by strong light and the eye will become red. The vision can also be impaired.

Too high blood pressure can also occur and cause pain. If your eye itches and your eyeball gets more and more red, you should consult an ophthalmologist. Inflammation of the iris can occur in connection with diseases such as Bechterew's disease or osteoarthritis.


General advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".

It is recommended to drink plenty of fluid and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

If a foreign body lies loosely on the inside of the eyelid or the white of the eye, you can try to remove it by:

  • Trying to "cry it out" with tears.
  • Using a clean piece of cloth - if the particle is visible.
  • Pulling the upper eyelid down over the eyelashes of the lower eyelid to "brush" the inside of the upper eyelid.
  • Pulling down the lower eyelid while looking up and having a person remove the particle with a clean piece of cloth with good lighting.
  • Looking down while having a person gently try to lift the eyelid upwards - using a match might be helpful.
  • Trying to rinse out the particle with a little saltwater.

If a foreign object gets stuck on your eye, you should cover the eye with a clean cloth, avoid touching the eye, and contact a doctor.

Eye catarrh is usually easy to treat yourself - and the sooner the better!
The infection will pass more quickly if you:

  • Keep your eye clean; clean your eye and eyelid 3 - 4 times a day with pure - and preferably tepid - (salt)water, chamomile tea or marigold on a piece of cotton or a clean cotton cloth.
  • Relieve the area with compresses with chamomile, marigold, or Ju hua (15 g. of the plant to 250 ml. of water in a tea bag). Place the tea bag on the eye and let it lie there for 10 minutes. - If you suffer from allergic eye catarrh, however, you should use cold water and cold compresses.
  • Put antiseptic cream on your eye before going to sleep. The cream could contain one of the following herbs: Arnica, lemon balm, echinacea, mountain tobacco, goldenseal, chamomile, common comphrey, marigold, propolis, thyme, or eyebright. Or - you can put a little egg white (cut into pieces) or quark onto a piece of cotton and carefully place it on the closed eye to relieve the stinging sensation.
  • Bathe your eye in eye wash with herbal extracts of e.g. goldenseal, chamomile, marigold, propolis, thyme, or eyebright.
  • Rinse your eye 3 - 5 times a day with - sterile isotonic - saltwater: You can do this by holding a (clean) eye-glass up to your eye or by dripping viscous eye drops (can be bought at the pharmacy) into your eye.
  • Take an acute supplement of vitamin A or betacarotene: 10,000 - 50,000 I.U. of vitamin A or 60,000 I.U. of betacarotene daily. Eat many (organic) carrots - if possible.
  • Take an acute, extra supplement of vitamin B1 and -B2: 25 - 500 mg. of vitamin B1 and 50 - 500 mg. of vitamin B2 daily.
  • Take an acute, extra dose of vitamin C: 2 - 3 g. a day - this can be acid neutral if so preferred.
  • Take an acute, extra zinc supplement: Up to 50 mg. a day.
  • Take a broad multivitamin-mineral supplement every day.
  • Avoid further irritating the infected eye by rubbing it and picking at it or exposing it to dust, chemical substances, or strong radiation from strong electric light, sunshine, and computer screens. It can be a good idea to use sunglasses or an eye patch for protection while the infection is at its worst.

If you get dangerous chemicals into your eye, you should:

  • Try to get them out by rinsing your eye with running water. The damaged side of the head should be tilted down in order to prevent the chemicals from getting into the other eye.
  • Holding your eyelid open with your fingers.
  • Cover your eye (or the eye of the affected person) with a compress after 10 - 20 minutes until being able to get to the hospital.
  • Beneficial herbs:
    Goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis, is widely used for mucous infections of the eyes since an extract of the rootstock of the herb counteracts inflammation.
    Flowers of Ju hua, Chrysanthemum X morifolium, is used warm for putting onto the irritated (closed) eye.

    In mother's milk there are many immunostimulatory substances. From ancient times, mothers have used to spray a little bit of breast milk into the child's eye if there were signs of inflammation.

    Conventionally, eye inflammation is usually treated with eye ointments and eye-drops.


    If you do not experience any improvement after 3 - 4 days, you should contact a doctor.

    Do not use eye make-up in the infected eye since that will further irritate the eye and since infection can be transmitted through your mascara brush and other eye make-up utensils. Therefore, do not lend out your eye make-up if you have had eye catarrh.

    In case of herpes, you should be very careful with your hand hygiene: Remember to wash your hands and avoid spreading of virus by rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands.

    A cornea infection can result in chronic wounds and loss of vision. If you suspect you might be affected, you should contact your doctor immediately!
    You should never try to remove a foreign particle that has got stuck or has penetrated the cornea. Foreign bodies which get stuck to the cornea requires medical treatment.

    If a strong, reddish colouring of the eye itself, greenish or yellowish inflammation, visual changes, strong pains, or damage to the eye appears, you should immediately seek medical attention.


    Usually, you can have an uncomfortable foreign object in your eye removed at the casualty ward.

    Be careful about rubbing your eye. Rubbing it will only worsen the problem; a foreign body can be squeezed against and into the cornea. Moreover, you should be careful about infecting your other eye if only one of them is affected.