The country’s first cross-sectional study to examine the indiscriminate use of traditional eye medicines (TEMs) responsible for increased occurrence of corneal infections has revealed that over a quarter of the surveyed population uses expired and indigenous drops for treatment. The study, conducted in 25 randomly selected clusters of rural Gurgaon by AIIMS, has revealed that 26.4 per cent of the participants were practicing self-medication. It also revealed that steroid, expired/unlabelled and indigenous eye drops were being used by 26.5 per cent, 21.1 per cent and 13.2 per cent of the participants respectively.
In India, corneal infection is the leading cause of blindness after cataract and the indiscriminate use of TEMs in developing countries, including India, is responsible for increased occurrence of such infections. Approximately, the cause for 5-10 per cent of cases of blindness is corneal infection. It is also estimated that approximately 2 lakh people with corneal blindness can be cured through corneal transplantation. However, only 60,000 transplants take place in the country per year due to the huge gap. The study involved 2,160 participants — of them, 18.2 per cent were reported to be using ophthalmic medications without consulting an ophthalmologist, mainly for symptoms like watering (37.1 per cent), redness (27.7 per cent), itching (19.2 per cent) and infection (13.6 per cent).
“Use of traditional eye medicines is recognised as an important contributory factor for development as well as for delayed or complicated presentation of corneal ulcer cases,” Dr Praveen Vashist, Head, Community Ophthalmology Department, Dr R P Centre, AIIMS, said. The study also reveals that 25.7 per cent of the participants resorted to home remedies like ‘kajal’(61.4 per cent), honey (31.4 per cent), ghee (11.7 per cent) and rose water (9.1 per cent).
“Use of Kajal can be the single biggest reason for infection. While at least 41.2 per cent patients sought no treatment in spite of ocular injury, 14 per cent got treated by healers and non-registered practitioners. The study shows that caution needs to be taken in use of ayurvedic and indigenous eye drops, which are available off-the-counter,” Dr Vashist said.