Home remedies no match for serious eye diseases
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many anxious patients to delay in-person medical treatment and turn to the internet for potential solutions, but folk remedies and snake oil have existed long before the internet.
“I see a lot of people who have done crazy things with stuff that they put in their eyes that they think is helping it,” Thomas L. Steinemann, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and professor of ophthalmology at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, told Healio/OSN.
“I love history, and the history of medicine is fascinating,” Steinemann said.
As important as it is to understand why cures and therapies work, it is also important to understand why certain things, such as the late 1800s “cornea sucker” Steinemann purchased at an estate sale, do not work.
“The most memorable one, because it resulted in a horrible infection in a baby, was somebody that was using urine as an eyewash,” Steinemann said. When he encountered this patient, it was the first time he had heard of the practice. Since then, he has heard of the practice more often. In this case, the child’s father, who supplied the urine, had a venereal disease.
“Apparently, depending upon your household or culture, there are lots of people around the world that believe in the eye wash properties of urine,” Steinemann said.
“Lots and lots of people have irritated eyes. They are looking for a cure, and dry eye is an underlying reason why some of these eyes might feel bad,” he said. “I honestly don’t know why someone would think that urine would be good for washing things.”
Recently, Steinemann has seen the practice of using urine as an eyewash circulating on Twitter.
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet has made it easier than ever for patients to believe they are able to diagnose their own conditions, raising the question of whether homeopathic cures and snake oil salesmen are making a comeback.
“That’s really my assumption in the midst of a pandemic that has been going on for 13 months,” Steinemann said, noting a lack of evidence to support the thought.
Beyond urine washes, a few other devices and cures come to Steinemann’s mind as being noteworthy.
Eye exercises purporting to strengthen eyes and eliminate the need for glasses used to be common on the radio, Steinemann said.
“If you’re moving your eyes around, those are the muscles on the outside of the eye, not the muscles on the inside of the eye, so it doesn’t make sense to me that moving muscles that move your eyes will help you see better or more clearly,” Steinemann said.
Blue-blocking eyeglasses might not cause harm to the wearer, but there is no evidence they are useful or necessary, Steinemann said.
“There really isn’t any evidence to suggest that blue light-blocking glasses are necessary or that blue light from our screens is causing any damage to the eyes. The amount of blue light coming from an electronic device is way orders of magnitudes less than the blue light from going out in the sunshine,” Steinemann said.
Devices and cures to save eyesight have come a long way since the founding of the American Board of Ophthalmology and the FDA in the early 1900s, but technology continues to change the way patients think about their own health.
“Computers have changed everything, including how we access information, health, everything,” Steinemann said. “People try to do the best that they can, and I don’t expect people to know everything about the eye, but the internet can be a little bit of a slippery slope.”