Dry Eye, Eye Irritation, and Eye Drops

Published: April 25, 2022
By Zach Krauss, 2023 PharmD Candidate

Do you use the right eye drops for your dry eyes? Often, dry and irritated eyes can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. There are many causes of dry eyes, and your pharmacist can help you choose the right kind of eye drop for you.

What are the causes of dry eye and eye irritation?
Dry eye can be caused by a number of factors, including age, dry weather, medical conditions like menopause or rheumatoid arthritis, medications like antihistamines (such as Benadryl), or not blinking properly or often enough. Symptoms of dry eye include watery eyes, a stinging sensation in your eyes, and redness.

Eye irritation, in the form of itchy, red, or runny eyes, can result from pollen and other allergens in the environment. Eye redness can result from either dryness, allergies, or can happen on its own.

What are artificial tears?
As a first choice for dry eye treatment, artificial tears help to keep the surface of your eye moist and protected. They contain ingredients such as lubricants, electrolytes, preservatives, and guar gum to mimic our real tears.

If you are allergic to preservatives, check for them in the ingredients list of your eye drops or check with your pharmacist before purchasing. If you see “PF” after the name of the drops, that indicates the drops are preservative free. 

What are allergy drops?
Allergies can cause your eyes to feel itchy, burning, swollen, red, or teary. There are many types of allergy eye drops available, including:

  • Antihistamines, which block histamines, a molecule that causes these reactions.
  • Mast-cell stabilizers, which stop the cells that create histamines.

Before choosing allergy eye drops, talk to your pharmacist to make sure they are right for you.

What are anti-redness drops?
Anti-redness, or decongestant drops, can be used to help clear redness out of irritated eyes. These can be found as decongestant products alone or in combination with some of the ingredients listed above. It is important to limit the use of anti-redness drops to only a few days at a time. Rebound redness, which is when your eyes become red in the absence of using drops, can occur if used for too many days in a row. 

Ask your pharmacist to help you select the right kind of eye drop based on your symptoms and severity. Many of these medications are available in a stronger form with a prescription. Talk to your doctor if an OTC product does not work or if your symptoms worsen. Also talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in your vision.




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