Pink Eyes – The Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach

pink eyes – conjunctivitis

The medical term for pink eyes is conjunctivitis.

From a western medicine perspective, conjunctivitis can be caused by an infective agent (such as a virus or bacteria); it can be caused by a inflammatory reaction due to an allergen or an irritant; or, in rarer circumstances, it can a side effect of a medication one is taking. Redness of the eyes may also be due to other eye diseases (such as glaucoma, uveitis, etc.) or may be a symptom of another disease (such as autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, etc.).

The diagnosis of the conjunctivitis and its underlying cause can be done by your GP or an ophthalmologist (eye specialist). The treatment of conjunctivitis is dependent on the underlying cause. If the underlying cause is a bacterial infection, then a topical antibacterial ointment may be given. If the issue is an allergy, then the conjunctivitis will get better when that allergen is removed and avoided in the future.

It is important to note that conjunctivitis caused by an infective agent is highly contagious. So, if you have a viral or bacterial conjunctivitis, you need to practice good personal hygiene and adopt infection control procedures so that you do not spread your conjunctivitis to others.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, disease happens when there is a disharmony within our body or when there is disharmony between our body and our environment. Similar to western medicine, in Chinese medicine, red eyes may be due to conjunctivitis or other eye diseases, and they may also be a symptom of other systemic diseases.

The Chinese medicine causes of conjunctivitis may be classified into three major categories – external causes, internal causes, and miscellaneous causes.

As Chinese medicine utilises the principles of Nature from the observation of Nature, the external causes of diseases in Chinese medicine are named after natural phenomena in Nature. These external causes of diseases (or external pathogenic factors) are – Wind, Heat, Cold, Dampness, Dryness and Summer-Heat. Diseases can be caused by a single external pathogenic factor or a combination of these. Diseases caused by each of these external pathogenic factors exhibit symptoms that are characterised by these natural phenomena.

For example, a Wind disease will have symptoms that comes on suddenly or have symptoms that comes and goes; it can have symptoms that spread quickly or move from location to location in the body; it can cause involuntary movements in the body or convulsions in the body; just like how wind is like in Nature!

Conjunctivitis, from a Chinese medicine perspective, can be caused externally by Wind-Heat or Wind-Heat intermingled with Dampness.

Internal causes of diseases from a Chinese medicine perspective are due to excesses of one’s emotions. Chinese medicine has identified 7 human emotions which, in excess, can cause disharmony in the body and therefore diseases. These 7 emotions are Anger, Joy, Grief, Anxiety, Pensiveness, Fear and Fright. The excesses of each emotion can have a direct impact to one or more of the 5 Chinese internal solid organs (Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung and Kidney) and cause derangements to the normal physiological functions of the body through these solid organs.

For example, excessive pent up Anger can cause Liver Qi Stagnation which in turns causes Liver Heat that can transform into Liver Fire. Liver Fire rises upwards and manifest through its associated sense organ, the eyes, thereby causing redness of the eyes.

Conjunctivitis, from a Chinese medicine perspective, can be caused internally by Excessive Liver Heat & Toxins, Lung Yin Deficiency, and Lung & Spleen Qi Deficiency.

In Chinese medicine, the miscellaneous causes of diseases include constitutional factors, lifestyle factors, trauma and secondary factors.

Constitutional factors are similar to the western medicine concept of genetics e.g. some diseases are due to one’s inherent predisposition.

Lifestyle factors include improper diet, and improper physical and mental exertion. Under-eating, over-eating, food partiality, and eating unhygienic foods can all cause illnesses in our body. Over-taxing ourselves physically or mentally, or not having enough exercise can also result in ill health. Being overly indulgent in sexual activities can also deplete and weaken the body, making the body more susceptible to illness and disease.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, the miscellaneous causes of diseases can predispose the body to getting conjunctivitis through improper lifestyle and diet. Improper lifestyle and diet create imbalances in the body so that it is then more susceptible to the external or internal causes of diseases.

When treating pink eyes, it is always important to consult a qualified health practitioner for a proper diagnosis. Each different health modality will have their different paradigms of what the underlying cause is and will therefore also have different treatment methods. Although there is to date no randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, conjunctivitis is traditionally treated in Chinese medicine using Chinese herbs and acupuncture. Please contact your local Chinese medicine practitioner if you are interested in more information about this condition.

Dr Reece Yeo

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