artificial tears eye drops over the counter OTC

Trying to find non-prescription eye drops at the drugstore can be an overwhelming experience.  Anyone who has wandered through the eye care aisle in a store knows there are an endless number of options for artificial tears, ointments, eye washes, and more.  For those who are looking to treat their symptoms of dry eye disease with lubricating eye drops, trying to navigate these options can be confusing and frustrating.  Here is a basic guide to consider the next time you find yourself trying to find an appropriate over-the-counter eye drop. 

OTC Artificial Tears for Dry Eye Disease

There are many different brands and formulas of over-the-counter drops that can be used for treating symptoms of dryness and irritation.  It is important to look for a lubricating eye drops with ingredients that nourish the ocular surface, not just eye drops that provide redness-relief.  Red relievers, such as Visine, can temporarily constrict the blood vessels in the eye and remove the appearance of blood-shot eyes, but will do nothing to improve comfort and treat dryness.  Drops that advertise themselves as lubricating drops are typically more effective. If your symptoms of dry eye disease are worsened by Meibomian gland dysfunction, a lipid-based tear like Systane Complete or Refresh Optive Advanced can help further improve symptoms.  There are even certain artificial tears that are approved to be used with contact lenses to prevent contact lens-related dryness. 


Preservative vs Preservative Free 

For those with moderate to severe dry eye disease, preservative free artificial tears may be the best option.  Many eye drops contain preservatives, which allows them to be packaged in larger multi-dose bottles. However, the preservatives can cause further irritation to the ocular surface.  If you are using eye drops more than 4 times a day, you should use preservative free drops to prevent this irritation. These drops come in single-dose vials that should be discarded shortly after opening.  The gentleness of these preservative free artificial tears is important for the nourishment and healing process of eyes that have been dramatically affected by dry eye disease.  


Over the Counter Gel Eye Drops

Oftentimes, eye drop manufacturers offer their artificial tears in a gel form.  These gels are a thicker version of the traditional eye drop that allows them to stay on the front surface of the eye for a longer period of time.  However, because they are thicker, they have the tendency to cause slightly blurred vision. For this reason, these gel drops are best used in the evening or directly before bedtime, when they can effectively protect the ocular surface for prolonged periods of time without causing annoying visual disturbances.  


Saline Solution and Eye Wash

Eye wash and saline solution is a common product found in the eye care aisle.  When it comes to the treatment of dry eye symptoms, these products are not beneficial as they do not contain any of the necessary ingredients to properly nourish the ocular surface.  While they can occasionally be useful in flushing irritants out of the eye, these products tend to disrupt the natural tear film and ultimately cause more irritation when they are used as an alternative to lubricating eye drops. 

If you have any questions about eye care products and the best eye drops to use for treating your dry eye disease, ask your optometrist.  They can give you specialized recommendations based on your exact symptoms. 


Our optometrists and eye doctors at Innovative Vision Care in Belton, Missouri specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease and can prescribe prescription or over the counter (OTC) medication best suited for your condition.  Call our optometrist at 816.331.9590 or request an appointment online if you would like to be evaluated for contact lenses.  Our eye doctor, Dr. Aaron Law, provides the highest quality optometry services  and eye exams in Belton, MO.

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COVID-19 Update

To Our Valued Patients:

We are excited to announce that we have re-opened for routine eye care. To make an appointment click here:

We are spacing out appointments during this time and modifying some of our procedures (visit for full details).

In addition to social distancing within the office, we will check temperatures before entering the building and require mask wear while in the office, in accordance with CDC and MO Department of Health regulations.

Continue to stay safe and healthy, and we look forward to providing eye care for new and existing patients again.

The Innovative Vision Care team