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Since writing the following article back in 2010, the makers of the product have changed its name. It is now called “Irritated Eye Relief” and no longer contains a reference to conjunctivitis. You can view the new product here. Note that the URL still refers to pink eye relief. It also states, in good homeopathic fashion, that it “stimulates the body’s natural ability to relieve” the symptoms of irritated eye. The idea is that substances that cause redness and irritation will cause your body to produce natural substances that relieve the redness and irritation. But since your body is already experiencing redness and irritation, wouldn’t it also already be producing natural substances that relieve these symptoms? Keep in mind that at one part per million there is not enough “medicine” in the water to make a difference in the response your body is already making. (Updated 04-27-2012).

I had a cold last week, and when I got over it, I found it had left a little irritation behind. I had an itchy, irritated eye.  So today I was at Rainbow picking up a few things when I passed the pharmacy section and noticed a large sign that said “eye care.” Maybe I’ll just see if there is something that can give me some relief from the itching and burning in my eye. I found the section for the eye drops and started scanning the little boxes for something to soothe my eye. On the top shelf, right at eye level was a box labled Pink Eye Relief. Odd. I thought medicine for pink eye (conjunctivitis) required a prescription. I picked up the box and turned it over to see what were the active ingredients. This is what I saw:

Active Ingredients
Belladonna 6x
redness, burning, grittiness
Euphrasia 6x
watery discharge
Hepar Sulphurius 12x
redness, stinging

For me the 6X and 12X were giveaways, but I started searching for the word anyway. Ah, yes. There it was. Homeopathic. I glanced at the price: $9.99 for ½ fluid ounce. I looked back at the box: “According to homeopathic principles, the active ingredients in this medication temporarily relieve minor symptoms associated with viral and environmental conjunctivitis.”

For a brief introduction to homeopathic principles, check out this article on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, homeopathy claims that the more diluted a substance becomes, the more powerful its healing effect. The notation 6X indicates that the original solution was diluted with one part medicine to 10 parts water. Then the dilute solution was diluted 1:10 again. Then again and again for a total of 6 times. In other words, this ½ fluid ounce contained 0.0001 % belladonna extract, the same amount of euphrasia extract and 0.0000000001 % of hepar sulphurius. Compare it to other preparations. For example, The active ingredients in Visine® are: dextran (0.1 %), polyethylene glycol (1 %), povidone (1%), and tetrahydrozyline HCl (0.05 %).   The ingredients in the homeopathic remedy are too dilute to be effective.

By the way, it’s a good thing they are. Both belladonna and hepar sulphurius cause redness and itching rather than relieving it.

I would not have minded if this so-called remedy were being sold in an alternative medicines section where its dubious character could be instantly recognized. But this concoction was sharing shelf space right next to the other eye drops as if it, too, were real medicine. Moreover, the fact that it is a homeopathic remedy is not very noticeable. A consumer who knows nothing about homeopathy or how to read the ingredient list would not know that they were purchasing a ten-dollar vial of 99.999 % pure water. That’s as pure as the distilled water the same store sells by the gallon for less than $2.

Caveat emptor.