Health Benefits of Eyebright

field of eyebright plant
Eyebright Benefits. Bernd Haynold/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) is a wild plant native to Europe. Long used in herbal medicine, it's typically touted as a natural remedy for eye problems.

In folk medicine, eyebright is often used as an ingredient in eyewashes, eye drops, or compresses applied to the eyes. However, there's some concern that use of such remedies could lead to infection, irritation, and other eye issues.

Eyebright contains compounds called tannins, which appear to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

Uses for Eyebright

Eyebright is commonly used to treat eye conditions such as conjunctivitis and eyestrain. However, eyebright is also said to aid in the treatment of many other health issues, including:

• earaches
sore throat

The Health Benefits of Eyebright

To date, scientific support for eyebright's purported health benefits is very scarce. The available research includes a small study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2000, which focused on eyebright's effectiveness as a treatment for conjunctivitis. 

For the study, 65 people with conjunctivitis were treated with eye drops containing eyebright, which were administered one to five times a day. In follow-up examinations performed seven days and 14 days after the start of treatment, a complete recovery was seen in 53 of the patients. An additional 11 patients showed a "clear improvement" in symptoms such as redness, swelling, and burning. However, one patient experienced a slight worsening of conjunctivitis symptoms.

In a more recent study (published in the Balkan Medical Journal in 2014), tests on cells taken from the surface layer of human cornea demonstrated that eyebright extracts may have anti-inflammatory effects. According to the study's authors, this finding suggests that eyebright shows promise in the treatment of inflammation-related eye disorders. Further research is needed to confirm this finding.

Safety and Side Effects

Eyebright drops may be harmful to certain people, including those who wear contacts or those who have had cataract removal, corneal transplants, laser eye surgery, or other eye procedures. Such individuals should consult a physician prior to using eyebright drops. Also, eyebright drops should not be used without consulting a health care provider, as some products may not be sterile and appropriate for use in the eyes.

When ingested, eyebright may cause a number of side effects, including:

• constipation
• headache
• insomnia
• nausea
• respiratory problems

Alternatives to Eyebright

There are a number of ways to improve your eye health with natural remedies, alternative therapies, and self-care techniques. 

If you're struggling with eyestrain, for instance, try incorporating these simple exercises into your daily routine.

For help in treating dry eye syndrome (the most widespread eye disorder), consider increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Preliminary research indicates that the omega-3s known as gamma-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid may alleviate symptoms of dry eye syndrome.

There's also some evidence that certain natural remedies may help sharpen your eyesight. To that end, some research shows that lutein may enhance visual function in healthy adults and in people with age-related macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness). Available in dietary supplement form, lutein is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables with deep green, orange, and yellow coloring.

In addition, preliminary research suggests that bilberry may aid in the treatment of glaucoma, as well as protect against eye problems commonly linked to diabetes and high blood pressure. The herb ginkgo biloba also shows promise in the treatment of glaucoma. 

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. Also keep in mind that the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. If you're considering the use of eyebright, talk with your primary care provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Where to Find Eyebright

Eyebright products are sold in many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in herbal products, as well as online.

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