The Bible says that Jesus healed a blind man by taking a little dirt and spit, making mud, and applying it to the blind man’s eyes. It literally worked wonders. The man, once blind, could now see, and he ran around telling everyone he’d been cured.
Compared to some of the homemade cures that patients put in their eyes, spit and dirt seem practically harmless. Then again, these patients ain’t Jesus. (Then again, who is?) Some of these patients are, let’s face it, as dumb as dirt. Have you ever had such a patient? (Keep reading: You could win fabulous prizes! No, really, you could.)
Here are a few homemade cures and folk remedies for the eyes. Any of these sound familiar?
• Breast milk. Optometrist Brian Chou was treating a keratoconus patient for red eyes and irritation. Turns out, the man, who was from India, had problems with his GP lenses as well as adenoviral conjunctivitis. When the patient came in for follow-up, he explained that in addition to his prescribed treatment, he also put some of his wife’s breast milk in his eyes. Did it help? “Hard to know if it did anything for better or for worse since he was using corticosteroids at the time,” Dr. Chou says.
This patient isn’t the only one saying, “thanks for the mammaries.” Oddly enough, there could be some truth to breast milk as an eye remedy. It’s no secret that breast milk provides babies with protection against infection, and many cultures—those in India and Jamaica, in particular—seem to think this immuno-protective effect applies to topical administration as well.
To test this belief, one study in New Delhi, India, asked new mothers in one wing of a hospital to put a drop of colostrum (the protein-rich breast milk produced right after birth) in their babies’ eyes three times a day. For comparison, mothers in another wing were asked not to apply anything to their babies’ eyes. After three days, the babies who received colostrum had much less conjunctivitis and “sticky eyes.” Only three out of 51 babies (6%) in this group developed an infection, compared with 26 out of 72 (35%) in the control group. At least one other study has found that colostrum has a protective effect against Chlamydia trachomatis, a common cause of neonatal conjunctivitis.
• Honey. Honey is good in tea and also in . . . eyes? Yup, the busy clinical investigators at the International Bee Research Association (this is for real) have been buzzing that honey is better for dry eyes than artificial tears. Honey has long been regarded as a traditional remedy for corneal problems, including corneal burns and ulcers. So, I asked our co-chief clinical editor Christine Sindt, O.D., about using honey on the eye. “Do you know how much bacteria is in honey?” she screamed, which isn’t easy to do in an e-mail. “For goodness sake, you can’t feed it to babies for fear it will kill them!”
• Hot tea. My colleague here Izabella Alpert, editor of Review of Cornea & Contact Lenses, grew up in Moldova, which she claims was one of the former Soviet Republics, located adjacent to Romania. (I’ve never heard of this country. Maybe Izabella made it up.) When Izabella had “pink eye” as a child, her mother would wipe her eyes with cotton balls soaked in strong, piping hot, black tea.
Then again, Izabella’s mother is also a proponent of another Eastern European or Russian (you pick) folk remedy: animal fat. Specifically, bear fat. Or badger fat. Or some even advocate (gasp!) dog fat. Have a cold? Eat a couple tablespoons, or just rub it on your chest (you pick). Somehow, this is actually sold in Russian pharmacies here in the United States. For real. Matter of fact, I have a bottle of badger fat sitting right here on my desk (thanks to Izabella), awaiting my next head cold or chest ailment.
This is why all children in Eastern Europe attend school every day—they’re afraid to stay home. “Aww, not feeling well, poor child? Let me just smear a handful of cold badger fat on you, and—here—eat a mouthful while you’re at it. Then let me just put some scalding black tea on those yucky eyes . . .” No thanks. School is better. They only humiliate and degrade you there.
• Urine. Optometrist Al Kabat was in his fourth year at Pennsylvania College of Optometry when a patient came in to the Eye Institute. The patient explained that he’d been treating his hordeolum with “a poultice made from the first morning’s urine.” Was it the patient’s own urine, at least? Dr. Kabat can’t remember. “Once I heard the word urine, I pretty much checked out mentally. All I can recall saying was ‘Oooookaaaaay...’”
Urine has been a common folk cure for millennia. Ancient Egyptians and Aztecs rubbed urine on their skin to treat cuts and burns. The ancient Spaniards may have used urine to whiten their teeth. These days, many people worldwide subscribe to the practice of urine therapy, which includes drinking your own urine for medicinal purposes. Not surprisingly, there’s very little credible medical evidence that drinking urine provides any health benefits.
Urine does contain some helpful substances, though, including urea, uric acid, cytokines, hormones and urokinase. Urea, for instance, is a main ingredient in many skin lotions. And, there’s a common belief that urine is (almost paradoxically) an antiseptic. (Remember that episode of Survivor when the dude asked a girl to pee on his wounded hand?) The reality is that urine is in fact sterile—but only inside the body. As it exits the body, urine can pick up microorganisms from the urethra and genitalia. So, putting peepee in your peepers is—pardon my French—a piss-poor idea (especially if you have a urinary tract infection or a sexually transmitted disease). D’oh!
Do you have such a story? Write it as a comment below and you could win fabulous prizes (no, really)—free registration to Review’s New Technology and Treatment meeting (Oct. 1 to Oct. 3 in sunny La Jolla, Calif.) AND ALSO a bottle of genuine Russian badger fat! (Yes, really.) The winner of the craziest home remedy will be picked by an august panel of judges (including myself and The Lady Who Waters The Plants Here In The Office).
• No foolin’, now—the winner will eventually have to provide us with some kind of documentation about the patient and the home remedy.
• We’re looking only for things that patients intentionally put in their eyes as a remedy. (Stuff that accidentally went into the eyes is a whole other topic.)
• Deadline is May 1.
That’s it. Enter early and often. You can almost smell the badger fat!