By: Daniel Smith, O.D.
Many eye disorders can be treated effectively with eye drops and products found over the counter at the local pharmacy and grocery stores. But with so many options on the shelves, finding the right product for your needs can be overwhelming and confusing. Your eye doctor can provide you with specific recommendations based on your symptoms, but this article may serve as a quick guide to help you navigate the eye drop aisle more knowledgeably. Most eye drops will fall into one of three general categories, which we will examine in turn: lubricants, allergy relievers, and redness reducers.
Ocular (eye) lubricants, or artificial tears, account for the majority of the eye drops on the shelves. They are the most frequently recommended type of eye drop, and they typically are the first treatment option for patients with dry eye syndrome. While all artificial tears aim to do the same thing— moisturize and lubricate the eye’s surface—there are some points of difference among products. For example, while most artificial tears have added preservatives to reduce spoilage, some are formulated to be preservative-free.
Preservative Free Artificial tears are ideal for individuals with sensitivities to preservatives or those who need to use the tears more than 4 or 5 times a day. These drops will be clearly marked as “preservative-free” and come in small, individual-use plastic vials rather than a traditional bottle. Some popular examples are Refresh Optive and Soothe PF. Gel-based tears are formulated to be more adhering and are an excellent choice for those with more severe dry eyes. The added thickness provides a more protective coating to the surface of the eye and offers longer-lasting relief to those with more significant dryness or irritation. Systane Gel is a popular choice, and Refresh Celluvisc is an excellent preservative-free alternative. Lipid-based artificial tears are targeted for those who may also have eyelid oil gland dysfunction. These are formulated with additional oils to restore what may be deficient in the tear film, resulting in better quality tears and improved comfort. A popular example of such a drop is Retaine.
Allergy relief eye drops are another commonly recommended type of product. Eye allergies (especially here in Florida!) can lead to significant redness, itchiness, puffiness, and discomfort. Products such
as Pataday and Zaditor are antihistamines that combat the body’s response to allergens and effectively treat most mild to moderate eye allergies. While many products may promise itchiness relief, it is best to look for active ingredients like olopatadine and ketotifen to ensure you are really getting an antihistamine eye drop.
Redness relievers should be approached with caution. These drops function by constricting the blood vessels on the eye’s surface, giving the eye a whiter appearance. While these drops serve a unique purpose, it is important to realize that the benefit is only cosmetic. They do nothing to address the actual cause of the eye redness. Generally, it is more appropriate to treat the redness at its underlying source rather than mask the problem. Furthermore, many of these products have been found to cause a “rebound redness” when the drop is no longer used. This can lead to dependency and overuse, leading to further problems and chronically red eyes.
While there are hundreds of products out there, and not all fall neatly into one of these categories, hopefully, this guide has provided some insight into the various types of eye drops available today.
The eye doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida would be happy to answer any further questions and give specific guidance tailored to your needs. Call 800-282-3937 to schedule an appointment or visit us online at EYESFL.COM.
Dr. Daniel Smith is an optometrist who practices at the Clermont location for Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida. Dr. Smith is currently accepting new patients, and his optical staff is always ready to assist with new eyewear purchases. This column is sponsored by Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFHN or of its advertisers.