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.