Dry Eye Medications: OTC and Prescription Options

There are many dry eye medications on the market, most of which are eye drops. Many of the eye drops used to treat or prevent dry eyes can be purchased over the counter; others require a prescription.

Anti-Inflammatory Drops

  • Restasis: This is the only FDA-approved medication for Dry Eye Syndrome. The recommended dose is one drop, twice a day. This medicine is not intended for instant relief; rather, it is a long-term medication to assist the production of tears without the side effects of steroid-based eye drops.

Hypotonic Drops

  • TheraTears: TheraTears brand includes a range of topical drops for dry eye, an omega-3 nutritional supplement for eye comfort, and a gentle and effective eyelid cleanser.
  • HypoTears: HypoTears is an OTC (over-the-counter) artificial tears product, indicated for temporary relief of burning and irritation due to dryness of the eye or exposure to wind or sun. It also helps protect against further eye irritation.
  • AkwaTears: This product is used as a lubricant to prevent further irritation or to relieve dryness of the eyes.

Bicarbonate Drops

  • Bion Tears: Bion Tears is only available with a doctor’s prescription. It is used to relieve dryness and irritation caused by reduced tear flow. It also helps prevent damage to the eye from certain eye diseases.
  • Murine Tears: These lubricant eye drops are designed to soothe and lubricate dry, irritated eyes. This product contains six of the eleven major ingredients found in natural tears. It temporarily relieves burning and irritation due to dryness of the eye. At the same time, it protects against further irritation.

Gelling Agent Drops

  • Systane: Systane is a brand that includes lubricant eye drops, nighttime lubricant eye drops, and preservative-free eye drops. It is for the temporary relief of burning and irritation due to dryness of the eye, and is available without a prescription.

Preservative Drops

  • GenTeal: GenTeal lubricating eye drops with GenAqua are for moderate dry eye relief symptoms. This product is manufactured by CIBA.
  • Blink Tears: This product reduces blurring, replenishes tear film each time you blink, and improves tear film stability.

Oil-Based Drops

These eye drops will replenish the lipid layer or tear film.

  • Refresh
  • Endura
  • Soothe

Steroid-Based Drops

It is important to know that long-term use of steroid eye drops such as Alrex, Lotemax, FML, and Vexol can cause an elevation in eye pressure or the development of a cataract (clouding of the lens). None of these eye drops should be taken without the recommendation of your eye care professional.

Serum Eye Drops

The use of serum eye drops has been shown to alleviate dry eyes. Natural tears contain many growth factors like antibodies. Since these growth factors are present in serum, using serum eye drops provides the surface-healing properties of natural tears.

Which Dry Eye Medications are in the Works?

As medicine advances, so do the products that are available. Although only a few of these products are available now, hopefully they all will be soon.

  • Secretagogues: These agents increase mucin production, and when applied to the cornea they cause the epithelial layer to secrete mucin. There are two secretagogues under investigation by major drug companies for dry eye treatment: diquafosol tetrasodium and hydroxyeicosatetraenoic acid.
  • Mucomimetics: MILCIN is being researched for use in the treatment of dry eye symptoms. It supplements the tear film by acting as a mucomimetic. More specifically, MILCIN becomes incorporated into the mucin layer and mimics secreted mucin.
  • Carbomer Gels: These are also in FDA clinical trials for the treatment of keratoconjunctivitis sicca and have achieved some success in the improvement of dry eye symptoms.
  • Immunosuppressive agents: Prograf is an immunosuppressive agent being evaluated for the treatment of dry eye and seasonal allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Androgens: Androgens seem to have a positive influence on the lacrimal gland. Topical beta-estradiol and topical testosterone eye drops are being investigated for the treatment of dry eye syndrome. These hormones seem to enhance lacrimal gland secretory function and have some positive influence on the healing of the ocular surface.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

If you believe your medication is causing your dry eye symptoms, talk with your eye doctor about switching. (See our list of medications that cause dry eye.) Never discontinue using medication unless directed to do so by your healthcare provider. If you are interested in learning more about one of the dry eye medications listed above, use these questions to help you get started:

  • Which prescription-strength eye drops will work for me?
  • Is there an over-the-counter eye drop that could replace the prescription one?
  • How much do these types of drops cost?
  • How often will I need to buy them?
  • How often should I see you for my dry eyes?
  • What can I do around my house to improve my condition?
  • If new symptoms develop, how long should I wait to contact you?
  • What are the side effects of the dry eye medication?

  • Drugs.com, Dry Eye Medication, 2011 http://www.drugs.com/
  • R. Abel, Jr., MD, “The Eye Care Revolution” (Kensington Books, 2004) 218
  • J. DiGirolamo, MD “The Big Book of Family Eye Care” (Basic Health Publications, Inc. 2011) 121
This article was last updated on 09/2015