Eye Drops

An in-depth look at various eye drops and how they are administered, plus comparisons against one another.

What eye drops can do for you

Today there are eye drops to relieve almost every type of eye discomfort. From allergy eyes to computer-strained eyes, there are eye drops to help relieve redness, dryness, blurriness, and more.

Eye drops are usually used to relieve temporary minor discomforts. If you are experiencing extended discomfort, you should contact your eye care professional immediately. Eye drops are good for getting rid of redness or itchiness caused by allergies or lack of sleep. They can also be used for dry eyes caused by weather conditions or a lack of tears. Eye drops also are used to relieve ocular pressure and help prevent glaucoma by preventing the overproduction of tears or helping to remove fluids from the eyes.

Eye Drops

 

Eye drops for allergies and redness usually contain antihistamines or an agent that keeps the eyes lubricated with tears. Due to the ubiquity of computers, eye drops for computer eyestrain are now widely available. These eye drops contain chemical agents that help relax the eye muscles and help with eye spasms.

When choosing an eye drop it is best to pick one that will relieve your particular symptoms. For computer users, an eye drop designed for fatigued computer vision is best. For people suffering from allergies, an eye drop containing an antihistamine is best. For people with dry eyes, lubricating eye drops are helpful. Some eye drops require a doctor’s prescription so if you are not able to find an eye drop for your discomfort, it is a good idea to ask your doctor.

Who Uses Eye Drops?

Almost everybody uses eye drops, and why not? There are several kinds available over the counter to solve even minor eye problems. Eye drops are also used by eye care professionals to diagnose, treat, or prevent eye conditions such as glaucoma. Eye drops are also used by medical doctors to protect the eyes of newborn babies as they transition from the womb to the outside world.

How to Administer Eye Drops

Although many people can administer their own eye drops easily, for others the task is not as simple. Whether you are using over-the-counter or prescription eye drops, use the step-by-step guide below to help you administer them correctly:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Shake the bottle gently.
  • Unscrew the cap.
  • Tilt your head back and gaze upward at the ceiling; you can sit or stand.
  • With your dominant hand, hold the bottle between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Bring the bottle up to your eye.
  • Using the little finger on your dominant hand, pull down the lower eyelid.
  • While holding the bottle above your open eyelid, squeeze it so that one drop falls onto the eye.
  • If the eye drop makes it into your eye, let go of your eyelid and close your eye.
  • Repeat on the other eye.

To help you make the administration process smoother, remember to:

  • Avoid letting the bottle touch your eyeball.
  • Avoid letting the eye drops run down into your nose and throat. To do this, place the index finger of your dominant hand on the lacrimal sac (the small bump on the corner of the eye between the eye and nose). Hold your finger there for approximately two minutes.
  • If you are unsuccessful the first time, try administering a second drop.
  • If you are unable to administer the eye drops, ask a family member or friend to help you; inform your eye doctor of your inability to administer the drops.
  • Try storing your eye drops in the refrigerator; the coolness of the drops can make it easier to tell when the drops enter the eye.

Rx Vs OTC Eye Drops

Over-the-counter (OTC) or nonprescription eye drops can be found in most stores. In general, OTC eye drops are safe to use, as long as they are not used for prolonged periods. Some OTC eye drops contain chemicals that constrict the blood vessels, temporarily reducing redness on the sclera (the white part of the eye). While these drops may bring temporary relief, once the effects wear off the eyes can return to their previous state, possibly redder than before. Allergic reactions have been known to occur in some people. Typically, preservatives in the eye drops are the culprit. For allergies, eye doctors recommend using artificial tears or preservative-free eye drops. Both are sold over-the-counter and do not contain the chemical that constricts blood vessels. Artificial tears are also great for moisturizing. Lubricating gels and ointments, which are also sold over-the-counter, are good for overnight usage.

Red or bloodshot eyes can be a sign of a more serious problem. Eye redness is not normal. If over-the-counter products are not effective, it may be time to see your eye doctor. Prescription eye drops are prescribed for various reasons. Anti-allergy eye drops, such as Patanol, Livostin, Alomide, and Cromolyn, relieve itchy, red, watery eyes by preventing the release of histamines. Anti-allergy eye drops are the most common eye drops prescribed. Other types of prescription eye drops include antibiotics, corticosteroids, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and drops to treat glaucoma.

If an eye infection is present, antibiotic eye drops are prescribed to treat and eliminate the infection. Corticosteroids are effective at treating puffy eyelids or iritis, but they can be dangerous to use. Improper usage of corticosteroid eye drops can result in cataracts or glaucoma. These eye drops should be used cautiously under the direction of your eye doctor. If glaucoma is present, glaucoma eye drops are given to decrease excess pressure in the eye. Glaucoma causes the eye to produce more fluids than it can drain, causing pressure to build up. The eye drops work either by decreasing the amount of fluid produced or by assisting the drainage process. These drops also need to be used under the direction of your eye doctor.

Antiviral eye drops such as are usually the primary treatment for the herpes virus. Triflurthymidine is often given in conjunction with oral medications to fight the virus.

There is not much difference between prescription and over-the-counter eye drops. As long as both are used properly, both can be safe and effective, with no side effects. If you are wondering which one to choose, you may want to consider why you need eye drops in the first place. If you are unsure of the cause of your discomfort, it may be time to visit your eye doctor.

Learn more about Choosing the Best Eye Drops

Types of Eye Drops

Check out the various types of eye drops on the chart below:

 

Types Used for Side Effects & Drawbacks Common Brands
Anti-allergy eye drops Treating symptoms of allergies such as itchy or watery eyes Redness; watery eyes may not recede; blurred vision Livostin; Patanol; Alomide; Cromolyn
Dry-eye eye drops Severe dryness OTC drops may not be effective, causing you to experience dry eyes for a longer period of time; Restasis; TheraTears; Systane; Similasin; Visine;
Rinse eye drops Rinsing debris and dust out of eyes Redness; stinging or burning sensation Collyrium; Eye Stream by Alcon; Tetrahydrozol; Visine
Glaucoma eye drops Help manage fluid in eyes; decrease eye pressure Blurry vision; depression; sexual dysfunction; high blood pressure; eye irritation; headaches; breathing difficulties Alphagan P; Azopt; Betoptic S; Cosopt; Iopidine; Isopto; Prostaglandin Anaglogs;
Steroid/Antibiotic eye drops Treatment of eye infections, eye inflammation, and eye pain Steroid: Increases risk of infection; improper usage can lead to certain eye diseasesAntibiotic: may not work initially; prolonged healing Steroid:PrednisoloneAntibtiotic: Gentamicin; Ofloxacin; Erythromycin;Sulfacetamide; Ciprofloxacin; Tobramycin
Antiviral eye drops Typically the primary treatment against herpes and other viral eye infections Headaches; eye dryness; blurred vision; stinging or burning sensation in eyes; photophobia (light sensitivity) Triflurthymidine; Adenine Arabinoside; Trifluridine; Idoxuridine
Mydriatic eye drops Opticians administer to dilate pupils during routine eye exams; allows eye doctor to clearly see inside the eyeball and behind the iris Temporary blurred vision; photophobia (light sensitivity) Tropicamide; Cyclopentolate; Atropine; Homatropine
Anesthetic eye drops Numbs the eye in preparation for certain medical procedures; painkiller Misuse can lead to damage to the cornea; infection; Econopred; Econopred Plus; Pred Forte; Akten; Alcaine; Tetracaine; Proparacaine

 

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor about eye drops:

  • What is causing my eye problems?
  • Which over-the-counter eye drops do you think would benefit me most?
  • What side effects can occur from using over-the-counter eye drops?
  • Do you think prescription eye drops would work better?
  • How much will prescription eye drops cost?
  • Is there a product available over the counter that is similar to the prescription eye drops you would like to prescribe for me?

Did you know … the eyeball can only hold the volume of a single drop of liquid?

References:
  • J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishers, 2011) 55
  • Glaucoma Research Foundation, Eye Drop Tips http://www.glaucoma.org/treatment/eyedrop-tips.php
  • J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing Ltd, 2009) 155-156
This article was last updated on 07/2014