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Eye Issues and Irritations

Eye Irritations: Dr. Peter Rice

Forced to Follow My Own Advice

At the end of the semester I was working way too hard finishing up grading for two pharmacy courses.  It surprised me one evening that my eyes seemed unusually dry and I wondered if I was coming down with something. 

Usually I have a problem with my eyes tearing too much in response to the low humidity in Denver. Interviewing two pharmacy school applicants one day earlier in the year, it was so bad that I had to explain I was not crying with joy at seeing them apply to our program, but just accommodating to the low humidity with teary eyes.

This time my eyes were definitely dry, and my right eye was beginning to ache. By the second day, it was clear that I was developing some sort of stye under my eyelid. And after giving patients advice on various eye issues over the years, I was forced to follow my own advice.

Eye problems are scary because losing vision is devastating.

So, we want to take care of eye problems expeditiously and make sure they are getting better instead of worse. Worsening eye problems are a good reason to seek an immediate medical consult.

One of my favorite eye remedies is a boric acid solution.  Back in the day, eye problems were regularly treated with solutions of boric acid, which were often homemade. Boric acid solution is a useful disinfectant, but boric acid powder can be used to kill insects, such as cockroaches. As always, the dose and exposure makes all the difference. 

I had heard years ago that on D-Day my dad’s picture was on the front page of the now defunct newspaper, the New York Journal American. He was a radioman aboard the US Navy amphibious landing craft LCI-552 at Normandy. So last time I visited Austin, Texas I also visited the University of Texas Harry Ransom Research Center Library, which houses the microfilms from the Journal American. I never could find my dad’s picture, but the newspapers from that week were full of discussion about the public health hazard of boric acid in homes and the number of babies in New York City who had died from boric acid poisoning in 1944.

I do not recommend making your own products for use in the eye. There are several commercially available eye rinse preparations that contain boric acid:

  • Collyrium for Fresh Eyes
  • Bausch and Lomb Advanced Eye Relief Eye Wash
  • CVS Eye Wash Soothing
  • and some other store brands.

You’ll need to read the label for the store brands to make sure they contain some boric acid, but you’ll note for all of these that the boric acid is not listed among the active ingredients. Nevertheless, these can do you good for minor eye irritations. These will carry a warning: If you experience eye pain, changes in vision, continued redness or irritation of the eye, or if the condition worsens or persists for more than 72 hours, discontinue use and consult a doctor.

The boric acid eye washes are soothing and antimicrobial; they help just about any minor eye irritation. They come with an eye cup, which you half-fill with solution and then tilt your head up as though your eye were taking a drink. I have had many patients report relief from itching eyes and minor irritations; even pinkeye may respond, although prescription eye drops are the superior treatment.

So after so many years of recommending boric acid eye wash, I found myself using it along with some hot compresses to provide relief to my dry eyes. Of course, I also followed my own advice concerning symptom improvement. Since mine was minor irritation and I noticed continuing improvement, I did not visit with a physician, but an immediate consult with a physician would be warranted for any eye problem that is serious or worsens over time. 

Of course, if you are ever in doubt you can always stop by a pharmacy and seek advice from your community pharmacy. He or she may direct you to some boric acid eye wash or suggest further medical examination if your eye looks more serious.  It’s good to know that your our community pharmacist is there for you.  Take care of yourself.


Collyrium for Fresh Eyes

Bausch and Lomb Advanced Eye Relief Eye Wash

Save up to 80% on your prescriptions


Dr. Peter J. Rice

Dr. Peter J. Rice is a professor of Pharmacology emeritus at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine and Professor of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. He received his BS in pharmacy from Northeastern University, PhD in pharmacology from the Ohio State University and PharmD from the University of Kentucky. He is a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and practices in the ambulatory care and community pharmacy settings. Professor Rice is the author of Understanding Drug Action: An introduction to pharmacology (APhA, 2014) and is a fellow of the American Pharmacists Association.




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