Treating pink eye with breastmilk?

Can eye infections, like conjuctivitis be treated by applying breast milk? How should I go about applying milk to the eye?

 

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, is usually caused by a virus that is similar to one that causes the common cold, though it has a variety of other causes, including bacterial infection or allergy. It is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin layer covering the surface of the inner eyelid and the front of the eye. It is highly contagious, and seen quite commonly in children. Conjunctivitis can cause a burning and scratchy or gritty sensation in the eyes, and there may be a discharge. You might first notice it when you wake up in the morning and your eyes and eyelashes are sticky, and hard to open.

Viral Conjunctivitis

Excessive tearing/watery discharge may be present with this condition. It will usually resolve on its own over a period of about two weeks. Antihistamine or cortisone eye drops may be prescribed to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral conjunctivitis. Erythromycin ointment is often recommended for viral conjunctivitis because it is soothing to the eyes as the virus runs its course, but it will only treat the symptoms.

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

This can often be distinguished because of a puss-y discharge (that may be white, yellow or greenish in color.) It is also characterized by redness of the eye and discomfort. Usually this infection will resolve quickly (within 1 to 3 days) when treated with antibiotic eye drops.

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is usually seasonal. It is distinguished by intense itching, along with redness and swelling of the eye. Systemic allergy medications (e.g. antihistamines) or antihistamine eye drops can be effective in treating this condition.

Conjunctivitis usually does not cause any long-term eye problems, though if a severe form were left untreated, it could cause significant damage to the eye. If the condition does not resolve after use of the antibiotic drops, a culture of the discharge should be taken to determine the pathogen and proper treatment.

Breast milk has been used by mothers (probably for many years) to treat infectious conjunctivitis, but hold off on this idea until you speak with your doctor.

Frequent and careful hand washing is very important! Viral conjunctivitis is contagious for around 10 days from it's onset. Avoid touching and rubbing the eye, sharing towels and washcloths, and change pillow cases each day.

A newborn with conjunctivitis needs to be evaluated immediately. Also see your doctor if you or your child experiences any of these symptoms:

  • Change in vision (such as blurred vision)
  • Yellow or greenish discharge from eyes
  • Very strong sensation of a foreign body in the eye
  • An elevated temperature, or feeling ill, in general
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