Eye drops for dry eyes
Due to the increasing number of people experiencing dry eye syndrome, there’s now a bewildering array of eye drops in the marketplace. With so many over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops on store shelves, it’s understandably difficult for most of us to decide which eye drop is ideal for our symptoms. Not all eye drops are created equally and some could even cause adverse side effects.
Here we'll review a few essential features of the major OTC and prescription eye drops available. We’ll also go over a few tips for getting the most out of your medication and the dangers of eye drop dependence.
Which Eye Drops Can Help Me?
Best For Moderate Dry Eyes: Artificial Tears
For quick relief from mild to moderate dry eye symptoms, artificial tears are usually the best option. As the name suggests, artificial tears are drops with ingredients that mimic the eye’s natural tears. Usually, these eye drops include a mix of healthy oils, proteins, and electrolytes that can re-hydrate and repair the eye’s tear film and cornea.
When you’re buying artificial tears, be sure to check whether or not the product has preservatives. People can experience adverse reactions to certain preservatives in OTC eye drops. You shouldn’t feel any eye discomfort or stinging immediately after putting these drops in your eyes. If your eyes are extra sensitive, then look for a preservative-free brand of artificial tears.
Best For Contacts Wearers: Rewetting Eye Drops
Anyone who experiences dry eye symptoms caused by contact lenses should first look into rewetting eye drops. Unlike artificial tears, rewetting drops use a special blend of compounds and preservatives that have been designed to positively interact with soft lenses.
There are two major ways rewetting drops work. First, they can help your contact lenses retain moisture so they don’t dry out so quickly. Secondly, they can add moisture to your tear film, which helps lubricate your contact lenses and provides temporary eye relief.
Again, these rewetting drops are best for people who know their eye discomfort is caused by contact lenses. Dry eye syndrome sufferers who wear contact lenses might experience greater symptom relief if they use artificial tears after they take contact lenses out of their eyes.
Best For Allergy Sufferers: Antihistamine Drops
Along with coughing and sneezing, eye discomfort is a standard allergic reaction. In all of these cases, the immune system releases too many histamines in response to a perceived threat. Common allergy triggers include pet fur, pollen, and dander.
If you’re one of the many allergy sufferers who frequently experience eye issues, then you could consider using antihistamine drops. Basically, these eye drops reduce red eye symptoms by blocking the body’s release of histamines. These drops will give you relief for a few hours, but they won’t cure your allergic reaction. It’s always best to consult an experienced allergist before you start using OTC antihistamines.
Best For Red Eyes: Decongestant Drops
Many people who suffer from allergy-related dry eyes make the mistake of picking up a bottle of decongestant drops to relieve their symptoms. Unfortunately, these can make the symptoms worse as they decrease the blood flow to the eyes.
The primary reason people should take decongestant drops is to get rid of excessive eye redness, not to alleviate dry eye symptoms. For this reason, you might find decongestant drops listed as anti-redness drops.
There are a few different kinds of decongestant drops out there, but most of these products use some kind of vasoconstrictor as their active ingredient. This chemical causes your eyes’ blood vessels to shrink, which improves the appearance of your eyes.
Optometrists only recommend using decongestant drops on rare occasions. Since this medication causes the user’s eye vessels to shrink, it decreases the amount of blood that’s able to flow into the cornea. Not only does this increase dry eye symptoms, but it could also cause serious damage to your eyes over time.
Best For Severe Dry Eyes: Lubricating Eye Gel
People with severe dry eye syndrome might want to look into a new line of OTC treatments known as lubricating eye gels. The function of these gels is very similar to artificial tears, except that they are stronger and only intended for nighttime wear.
People who opt for lubricating eye gels are usually instructed to place one drop in each eye overnight. Commonly, these drops feel stickier than ordinary artificial tears due to the greater amount of lubricant in the product.
As with artificial tears, it’s important to check what preservatives are used in whatever lubricating eye gel you’re interested in purchasing. Patients who are sensitive to preservatives might want to look for lubricating eye gels that use more natural ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids.
The Alternative Choice: MSM Drops
Anyone interested in alternative healing might’ve heard of the supplement MSM before. Short for methylsulfonylmethane, MSM is a sulfur found in most animals and plants that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Although most people take MSM for conditions like arthritis, there are many anecdotal accounts online of MSM’s eye-healing potential.
The most common reason people use MSM drops is to get rid of eye floaters caused by the breakdown in the eye’s vitreous layer. Some dry eye sufferers have also claimed they experience relief using MSM drops.
Please note: there haven’t been many scientific studies evaluating MSM’s efficacy for eye conditions. Please ask your optometrist for more information on this supplement before you treat yourself.
When Should I Get Prescription Eye Drops?
Over the counter medication is a great option and does offer relief, but it will not treat any underlying cause.
If you are unable to get long-term relief from over the counter eye drops then discuss your dry eyes with your optometrist or family doctor. They will discuss your lifestyle, contact lens-wearing habits etc with you to determine the probable cause of your dry eyes.
If required your doctor is able to prescribe medications such as Ciclosporin, Corticosteroid, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, and even Tetracycline Tablets
Getting the Most Out Of Your Eye Drops
Administering eye drops can be tricky at first, but with a bit of practice, you'll soon be getting the drop into your eye the first time.
Here is an effective method to safely get these drops in your eyes 100 percent of the time:
• Thoroughly wash and dry your hands.
• Sit comfortably with your head tilted to the ceiling.
• Focus upwards as you pull one lower eyelid down with two fingers.
• Hold the eye dropper with your other hand and point the tip towards your eye. This dropper should be no more than an inch away from your eye.
• For greater stability, let this hand gently rest against your forehead.
• When you’re ready, squeeze the bottle.
• Remove both hands and close your eyes for about three minutes.
Like any skill, squeezing drops directly into your eyes is a skill that requires practice. Some people find it helpful to enlist a family member or friend to apply the eye drops- particularly if only needed for a few days.
Can You Get Addicted To Eye Drops?
Eye drops have an important role to play in the management of dry eye syndrome, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any drawbacks. The main negative associated with OTC eye drops is that they are habit-forming. With prolonged use, your eyes could develop a tolerance for whatever eye drops you’re using. This will make it difficult for your eyes to naturally produce tears.
People who frequently use decongestant drops are at an increased risk of developing a disorder known as rebound hyperemia. After a person stops using decongestant drops for a few hours or days, they may notice their eyes are extremely sensitive to light, scratchy, and red. Since decongestant drops work by constricting blood flow to the sclera and conjunctiva, blood vessels often grow abnormally larger as the medication wears off.
If you fear you’re becoming addicted to eye drops, then you should have a chat with your optometrist about long-term strategies to overcome dry eye.
With Eye Drops, Moderation Is Key
Although OTC drops are great for quick symptom relief, they aren’t the only way dry eye sufferers could combat their symptoms. A few lifestyle changes like limiting electronic screen exposure, getting more natural sunlight, and eating a diet rich in veggies, fruits, and omega-3 fish are all great ways to improve eye health long-term. Although omega-3 doesn't help with dry eyes according to the latest studies done it has been proven to help with a wide range of other eye issues. As a short-term remedy, eye drops can be very beneficial for dry eye sufferers. Just be sure to discuss your dry eye symptoms with a qualified optometrist to better understand what’s the best solution for your condition.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 28 Apr 2023, Last modified: 12 May 2023