As I discussed in my previous two articles on eye health, “Home Eye & Vision Care: Foods, Herbs and Lifestyle” and “Ayurvedic Eye Treatment for Tired Eyes,” the lymphatic drainage of the eye muscles is critical for the precision contraction and expansion of these muscles. When these become congested it can result in diminished precision control of the eye musculature necessary for optimal visual acuity.
While decreased visual acuity is something that we have learned to accept and expect as we age, congestion of the ocular lymph is also related to other occasional pesky eye concerns, like dry or bloodshot eyes.
The eyes have lubricating glands called lacrimal ducts and meibomian glands that help to ensure optimal eye moisture. When the lymphatic system becomes congested and the eye muscles become unable to move waste out of the eyes these glands can become sluggish and unable to keep up with environmental drying factors, such as heat, humidity, and sunlight.
Here in Colorado, where it is routinely dry due to the high altitude and lack of rainfall, dry eyes are a very common concern. Humidifiers and saline eye drops are helpful but they do not always resolve the issue.
Many eye doctors here prescribe washing the eyes with baby shampoo that is “tearless” or safe for the eyes. The theory is that the natural tearless detergents scrub these ducts of any debris, allowing the eye to lubricate itself once again. This is a common technique and I have many patients who have experienced success with it. However, it does not address the underlying physical imbalance of the eyes that, according to Ayurveda, is at the root of these concerns.
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A Traditional Ayurvedic Perspective
The concept of pitta imbalance presenting as dry or irritated eyes is well understood in Ayurveda. However, instead of using a detergent to attempt to scrub the lacrimal ducts, Ayurveda used oil to rejuvenate the eyes and bring them back into balance. This protocol is called Netra Tarpana, where a natural, eye-friendly oil is allowed to soak into the eyes for a couple of minutes to provide surface-level moisture penetration and draw toxins out of the eye tissue.
According to Ayurveda, the eyes are a hot or pitta organ that can be aggravated towards the end of summer when summer heat accumulates. Ghee, or clarified butter, is a cooling oil that is ideal for addressing this pitta imbalance and the appearance of dry, fatigued eyes.
The Triphala Eye Wash discussed in my previous blog is generally best as a rejuvenation of the eyes and a quick stimulating flush. For maintenance, Netra Tarpana may be best in the winter when the eyes are drier or in the summer when it is hot. The Triphala Eye Therapy may be best in the spring or early summer when the eyes tend to be more congested. That said, both of these therapies offer unique support for the eyes and both can maintain optimal eye health.
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Disclaimer: While Ayurveda has been employing this technique for thousands of years to address underlying imbalances in the eyes, modern sanitary practices and FDA guidelines strictly prohibit the use of non-sterile or home-sterilized solutions in daily eye care routines. Consult with your healthcare practitioner before beginning any eye care regimen that involves introduction of foreign material into the eye itself. Home-sterilized solutions cannot prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and are not a substitute for modern eye care products.
Ayurvedic Eye Treatment: Netra Tarpana (Ghee Eye Bath)
Traditionally, a dam made of dough from urad flour was used to create a well around the eyes. The urad dough was sticky enough and firm enough to hold the ghee without leakage. Luckily, we don’t have to go through so much trouble today. An eye glass or eye cup you can get at a pharmacy makes this a quick and easy process. Always sterilize your eye cup or glass before every use.
- Heat up 2-3 teaspoons of ghee to medium temperature using sterile cooking equipment. Never use ghee that has come into contact with other foodstuffs or non-sterile utensils.
- Let the ghee cool to body temperature and, with the head down, press the eye cups to your eyes.
- Then tip the head back and, with eyes open, hold the eye cups firmly in place for 2 minutes.
- Blink and look around to allow the ghee to completely cover the eyes. This is best done while lying down so you can relax and let gravity do the work for you.
Repeat 3-4 times a week for 2-3 weeks to counteract pitta imbalance and reduce the appearance of dry and fatigued eyes. Never reuse prepared ghee that has been allowed to sit for more than a couple minutes or that has already come into contact with your eyes, as harmful bacterial growth is a serious concern that can result in permanent eye damage or blindness. Make a fresh preparation for every use.
An alternative to ghee: Apply a compress of equal parts raw honey and turmeric to the eyelid. Apply a hot water bottle to keep it warm for 20 minutes twice a day.
Note: Abnormally dry, itchy, or watery eyes, blurry or double vision, glare sensitivity and excessive tear secretion are all potential signs of an underlying genetic condition or serious disease. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than 72 consecutive hours, make an appointment to see a vision health specialist immediately.