Which Eye Drops To Use?

Whenever you walk into any pharmacy or outlet like Clicks, you would have noticed quite a large selection of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. This can be very confusing because there are other eye drops which you can only obtain with a doctors prescription.

When Are Eye Drops Needed?

The type of eye drop or ointment you will need depends on what eye condition you have, e.g. dryness, itching, swelling, redness, soreness, allergies or infection. Obviously, when you have an infection of if any of these symptoms are severe, it’s always best to consult your optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Many ordinary OTC eye drops will provide relief for short-term dry eyes, where the eyes get dry when you are tired or spending a lot of time in front of the computer or doing lots of reading. Other causes of temporary dryness include being outside in windy and sunny conditions, on a long flight or if you don’t drink enough water.

Always avoid decongestant eye drops. These are drops that give relief to red eyes. These drops take the redness away but also cause dry eyes. I normally recommend Refresh Tears, Systane or Optive. These can also be used with contact lenses.

Long-term dryness can occur with aging (especially in women), certain medications like diuretics and antidepressants and some auto immune diseases like Sjogrens syndrome. For long-term dry eyes, a gel or ointment may be needed. Refresh liquigel or Celluvisc normally work quite well. Some gels can cause blurring of vision for a few minutes and you may want to use them at night while sleeping.

If OTC drops don’t help, you will need to see your optometrist for dry eye testing and additional treatment.

Eye Drops for Redness

Red eyes can be caused by dryness, allergies, infections, tiredness or a combination of these. Before you use drops for red eyes (decongestants), you should consult your optometrist to determine the underlying cause. Decongestants shrink the blood vessels of the sclera and make the eyes appear whiter. But they mask the cause of the redness. They also cause dryness and irritation if used too often. Also, your eyes may become dependant on them to stay white and clear, forcing you to use them more and more.

If your eyes are red due to dryness or tiredness, I suggest you try a non-preservative OTC lubricating eye drop for relief.

Eye Drops for Allergies and Itching

Itchy eyes are almost always a symptom of an allergy.  This will require specific types of eye drops. Sometimes allergies can cause other symptoms like swelling, redness, watery eyes and puffy eyes, for which OTC drops can help.

Allergy symptoms can result from change in season (spring time), or if you are exposed to something you are allergic to. This causes the release of histamines which makes your eyes red, irritated, puffy and sore. And this is made worse by rubbing your eyes. There are various OTC antihistamine eye drops available that treat itching due to allergies by reducing the histamine in the eye tissues. For severe itching that does not improve with OTC treatments, it is best to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist for prescription drops or oral medications.

Eye Drops for Pain, Swelling or Discharge

For any type of eye pain, it is vital to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist first, to determine the underlying cause.

Usually, eyes become sore because they are dry, strained, tired or just overworked. Rubbing your eyes initially feels good, but they will feel worse after a while. A comprehensive eye examination will determine if the soreness is due to a focusing problem related to shortsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or presbyopia.

Dry eyes are another common cause of eye pain, which is relieved with lubricating eye drops. These drops may also help with certain types of discharge.

However, thick yellowish discharge caused by eye infections may require a prescription for antibiotic eye drops.

Eye Drops for “Pink Eye” Infections

The common infections most people get are called “pink eye”. Pink eye or conjunctivitis can either be bacterial, viral or allergic. (See article on pink eye.)

If you are using eye drops for eye infections it is important never to touch the tip of the bottle onto your eye. This will contaminate the bottle and spread the infection.

Using the appropriate OTC eye drops can be cheaper and quicker than a visit to your optometrist or ophthalmologist. But rather get them involved instead of being your own doctor. If you are going to gamble, don’t do it with your eyes.

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