There are several different varieties available. The most common types of eye drops are lubricating eye drops, anti-allergy eye drops, and anti-redness eye drops. In general, they come with very few side effects and can be used safely on a regular basis.
1Eye drops can help with eye redness. Eye drops are one of the most common primary care responses to consistently red eyes, which are a symptom of a whole host of conditions, from conjunctivitis to allergies (3).
Red-eye treatment drops, for example, which can usually be acquired over the counter, generally work by constricting the blood vessels in your eyes, which reduces the red appearance and brings them back to normal.
Such eye drops, however, should only be prescribed for a few days, according to a 2017 article on the treatment of red eyes (4).
Using vasoconstricting eye drops for a long time will lead to diminishing returns. In other words, they’ll stop working as well as they did at the beginning as your eyes get used to them, and they may even make your eyes redder when they’re in a normal, non-medicated state.
2Eye drops can help your eyes feel less itchy if you have allergies. Antihistamine eye drops, or eye drops designed to target allergies, are a proven treatment for itchy eyes that occur when you come into contact with an allergen, such as dust, pollen or cat fur (5).
In one study from 2006 which tested patient responses to Japanese pollen, eye itchiness that normally lasted for an average of five hours was reduced to an average of one hour when anti-allergy eye drops were installed in the eyes of patients (6).
For users who don’t like taking antihistamines or don’t want to be dependent upon them, using preservative-free lubricant eye drops may prove to be a more effective long-term solution, as overuse of antihistamine eye drops could lead to a tolerance as well as a worsening of any dry eye symptoms which already exist as a result of the allergic reaction (7).
3Eye drops are a good treatment for dry eye syndrome. Lubricant eye drops, or artificial tears, are unsurprisingly one of the first responses most practitioners give when prescribing for a case of dry eye. Research shows that common artificial tear eye drops from over the counter brands are an effective and safe medication in treating dry eye syndrome (8).
In mild cases, lubricant eye drops are essentially the first line of defense, and they usually alleviate symptoms without any untoward side effects (9).
In more severe cases, they may be used as symptom relief along with other therapies, such as lifestyle changes and anti-inflammatory supplements or medications (10).
4Eye drops can be used to recover from LASIK and other eye surgeries. Dry eyes are the most common complication that occurs as a result of LASIK surgery. Nearly all patients experience some kind of dryness in their eyes directly after the surgery, with severity depending upon the procedure and patient in question (11).
Using artificial tears or lubricant eye drops to solve the issue is a well-documented and easy, safe procedure which is often prescribed (12).
The eye drops are usually well tolerated and may even improve vision slightly for the initial period right after surgery, where dry eye may slightly interfere with a patient’s ability to see.
5Eye drops can make your eyes feel more comfortable after swimming in a chlorinated pool. Depending on the concentration of chlorine in a given pool, the pool water can significantly irritate the eyes of a swimmer, far more than normal tap water (13).
Eye drops are one method of recommended treatment in cases where irritation or infection occurs in the eye as a result of swimming (14).
And just like any other case of dry eye, artificial tears can be used if dry eyes result from a swimming session.
6Eye drops can help lubricate your eyes if you’ve been exposed to cigarette smoke. A little-realized effect of smoking is its impact on your eyes and the way they produce tears. The constant exposure to smoke can easily lead to dry eyes. One 2016 study, for example, which was published in the Journal of Opthalmology, found that smoking could have a significant impact on the quality of tear film produced by smokers vs. nonsmokers (15).
In other words, your eyes might have less moisture in them if you or someone close to you is a smoker. Though a causal relationship hasn’t yet been determined, a strong association has been noted between smoking and the quality of tear film in the eye (16).
That’s true even if you’re not the one doing the smoking. Secondhand smoke has been hypothesized as a significant risk factor for dry eye syndrome in children, even when they don’t smoke cigarettes themselves (17).
Other studies have shown that smoking might be a factor in dry eye for smokers themselves in the general population, not just in children (18).
7Eye drops can help your eyes feel less irritated by dust. This falls under the category of eyes becoming irritated by allergies, but dust also counts as a foreign object, and taking eye drops can help patients cope with the symptoms of dust-related eye irritation (19).
8Eye drops can be used to relieve the symptoms of glaucoma. Eye drops are one of the most common glaucoma treatments, and often the first line of defense (20).
Though of a different category from normal over the counter allergy or lubricant eye drops, glaucoma eye drops are more or less the primary form of treatment for the condition (21).
9Eye drops can be used to relieve pain and help the eye recover from minor injuries. Eye drops are also used to help deal with minor eye trauma, such as the kind resulting from a small injury to the eye or major eye surgery (22).
Eye drops of different varieties are a common treatment for everything from burns to chemicals in the eye to conjunctivitis (23).
10Trehalose can help treat dry eye syndrome. A 2002 study showed that six eye drops with trehalose daily over 4 weeks was able to reduce symptoms of dry eyes in subjects experiencing moderate to severe dry eye symptoms (24).
Another 2004 double-blind study showed that trehalose containing eye drops was a better treatment for moderate-to-severe dry eye syndrome, over 4 weeks, in comparison with two commercially available eyedrops containing hyaluronan (Hyalein) or hydroxyethylcellulose (Mytear) (25).
11Sea buckthorn can relieve redness and eye dryness. A 2010 study showed that supplementation of 2g sea buckthorn oil daily (in two divided doses) over the course of three months in women with dry eye symptoms was able to reduce overall symptoms and appeared to benefit reddening and dryness in particular (26).
1With conventional eye drops, overdosing may be easier than it seems. Normal eye drops (which come in a bottle with a dropper tip, and are administered at home) have both a high concentration of active ingredients and a relatively inexact method of administration, especially when done on one’s own (27).
As such, overdosing with such medicines may be easier than was previously thought. That said, there aren’t any terrible side effects associated with getting two drops rather than one in one’s eye, so this won’t be a concern for regular users so much as for users who need eye drops for specific, medical purposes where dosing is of the utmost importance.
In addition, overdosing on eye drops for red eyes which act as vasoconstrictors (they make the blood vessels smaller) may have the consequence of inducing dry eye syndrome, so sticking to regular-sized doses at infrequent intervals is an important factor in correct treatment (28).
2Allergic reactions are rare but possible. It’s not very common, especially among individuals who are using eye drops to treat simple allergies or everyday eye redness, and who are doing so in a sanitary environment after washing their hands. However, some allergic reactions to topical eye drops have been recorded, especially concerning the kind of eye drops that are used to treat glaucoma (29).
Researchers think that this is likely due to the preservative content in the eye drops, which prevents them from expiring but may act as an irritant to the eye. There are also occasional case studies which show allergic reactions even to normal, everyday eye drops which are used to treat eye conditions but which can occasionally make them worse (30).
3Topical eye drops can transmit more serious infections if not kept in a sanitary environment or if put into contact with an infected surface or body part. If you notice any more serious side effects such as blurred vision, increased and abnormal eye redness, or other effects in different parts of your body after using eye drops, you should contact your doctor immediately.
Even though eye drops are supposed to make your eyes feel less irritated, they can transfer infections quite easily, especially if not kept in a sanitary environment or if put into contact with already-infected eye tissue (for example, if a friend with pink eye uses your eye drop bottle and then you use it right after, it’s more than possible that you’ll catch it as well the next time you use your eye drops). Staph infections, bacterial keratitis, and endophthalmitis are all possible infections that can result from a bottle of infected eye drops (31).
The majority of eye drops will come with dosing information on the bottle or box. Furthermore, as previously stated, getting exact dosages with eye drops is hard, to begin with, and users won’t suffer any negative effects if they use slightly more than is utterly necessary.
In the absence of any dosing information, however, and if no information can be found by looking up the manufacturer or eye drop variety, 1-2 drops administered in each eye either every few hours or once a day is the most common dosage for anti-allergy, anti-redness and lubricating eye drops.
Can eye drops make your eyes worse? Some eye drops are meant to eliminate as much redness from your eyes as possible. However, they can cause “rebound” swelling and redness, which may lead to chronic eye redness.
Are eye drops safe? Yes, eye drops are very safe. Allergic reactions and other adverse effects that result from using common eye drops are quite few and far between, and most users will have absolutely nothing to worry about when using a bottle of eye drops, especially when new.
That said, correct storage and sanitation of any eye drop container or dropper are important, as eye drops can easily become a pathway for a bacterial infection to affect your eyes. Infections such as bacterial keratitis (an infection of the cornea) or staph infections in the eye are incredibly dangerous because in acute cases, they can lead to long-term vision loss, a decrease in vision sharpness, or even blindness (32).
However, as long as a bottle of eye drops is properly stored and treated, it will be overwhelmingly safe, and the chance of infection will be negligible.
How frequently can I use eye drops? Eye drop usage frequency will depend on which kind of eye drop you have, which eye condition you’re treating, and your doctor’s instructions for using them. That said, most eye drops should be used only a few times a day at the most. In many over the counter eye drops, the preservatives that make up part of the solution can actually cause your eyes to become more irritated than they were previously.
If I use eye drops too often, will my body become dependent upon them? In general, it’s not possible to become addicted to eye drops in any way, shape, or form. However, most doctors will recommend lubricant eye drops (artificial tears), especially preservative-free ones, over anti-redness eye drops.
While using anti-redness eye drops such as Visine will solve your issue with bloodshot eyes in the short term, it can actually lead to eyes which are more bloodshot in the long term, due to a condition called “rebound redness.” After usage, your eyes may look better for a while but then return to an even more bloodshot condition once the effect of the eye drops completely wears off.
Are eye drops bad? No, most eye drops contain harmless moisturizers and no medication, they’re very safe no matter how often they are used.
How many times a day can you use eye drops? It really depends on the eye drops as some are one-time use while others can be infinite.
Which variety of eye drops (anti-allergy, anti-redness, lubricating) is the safest? Each variety of over the counter eye drops is more or less safe in the same way, as long as they are properly stored. Less common, prescription-only eye drops may not be as safe, but only your doctor will be able to inform you of any possible side effects.
That said, preservative-free eye drops of any variety are probably safer than the kind which includes preservatives. Preservative-free options usually come in single-use containers rather than the larger bottles many users are accustomed to.
Which variety of eye drops is the most effective? That depends on what you’re using them for. If you’re trying to solve eye redness, but you know that the redness is actually caused by allergies and not by any other kinds of irritants, for example, then using allergy eye drops may actually be more effective than using eye drops designed to combat bloodshot eyes.
How should eye drops be stored? Over the counter eye drops should, generally speaking, be stored in a relatively cool, dry place. Doing so will lessen the chance that they become contaminated or that they expire quickly. Specialty eye drops, however, such as the antibiotic kind used to treat infections, may need to be stored in a more controlled environment, such as your refrigerator.
Do eye drops expire? Eye drops do expire. The expiration date for most eye drops is listed on the bottle and is usually listed as around 30 days or less. In any case, the American Academy of Ophthalmologists recommends throwing away any opened bottle of over the counter eye drops after three months at the very latest.
Are eye drops safe for children to use? Generally speaking, over the counter eye drops are safe to use. However, they should probably be used sparingly, as children generally need less of the solution itself to solve whatever eye issue they are facing. In addition, in the case that a child has an allergic reaction or otherwise unforeseen reaction to the eye drops, using a correct dosage rather than a heightened one is doubly important (33).
Can I use eye drops if I wear contacts? That depends on the particular variety of eye drop you are using. Some eye drops are designed for usage with contacts lenses or just before you put them in, whereas others absolutely should only be used when you’re not wearing contact lenses. If you’re not entirely sure which kind the bottle in question is, it’s likely better to err on the side of caution and not use given drops with contacts in until you can ask your doctor or look up the information on the manufacturer’s website.
What happens if dry eye is not treated? Without adequate tears, you may have an increased risk of eye infection and damage to the surface of your eyes. If left untreated, severe dry eyes may lead to eye inflammation, abrasion of the corneal surface, corneal ulcer, and vision problems.
How long do eye drops take? Leave the eyelids closed and the finger pressing gently for 2 full minutes. Studies have shown that it takes 2 full minutes for the drop to completely penetrate the surface of the eye and get inside.
Will eye drops make my vision worse? No, eye drops should not make your vision worse. In fact, they should make it better. Lubricant eye drops, for example, have been shown to improve visual acuity (the sharpness of your vision) in between blinks compared to a lack of eye drops at all (34).
If your vision gets worse after using eye drops and it does not improve, you should contact your doctor immediately, as it could be a sign of an allergic reaction or an infection.
How do you lubricate your eyes? Placing a warm compress on your eyes then washing your eyelids with baby shampoo helps to release some of the oil in your eyelids’ glands, this improves the quality of your tears. Be sure you completely rinse the soap from your eyes when finished to avoid irritating them.
Can your eyes become dependent on eye drops? It is possible and many people are dependent on or addicted to whitening eye drops to keep their eyes looking white.
Can dry eyes be cured permanently? Dry eye syndrome is a chronic and typically progressive condition. Depending on its cause and severity, it may not be completely curable. But in most cases, dry eyes can be managed successfully, usually resulting in noticeably greater eye comfort, fewer dry eye symptoms, and sometimes sharper vision as well.
Are eye drops supposed to sting? All drops may cause some burning or stinging when instilled. Often, this effect is due not to the drug but to the antibacterial preservatives in the solution.
How long do eye drops last? They can last anywhere from 1 hour to a whole day in some cases.
In short, eye drops have myriad health benefits for your visual system. They can help with red eye, assist in recovery from difficult eye surgery, help give symptom relief for infections (or treat infections directly, in the case of antibiotic eye drops) and more.
There is also a wide variety of different options out there, and most users will be able to pick what works for them from a range of different brands and types. Just remember that correct storage and usage of eyedrops is incredibly important, as not doing so may leave your eyes vulnerable to infection.