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Eye Health Center

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Eye Drops: An Ocean of Uses

Whether eye drops are treating "lazy eye," working to delay or prevent glaucoma, or helping dry or irritated eyes stay moist, they're getting more use than ever before. Here's what's new about today's eye drops.

What Are Eye Drops?

Eye drops usually contain saline as a base ingredient. Depending on their intended use, they may also contain lubricating, tear-replacing (artificial tears), antiredness, and other substances, as well as medications.

Common Uses for Eye Drops

Eye drops are commonly used for:

Cataract surgery (lens removal and replacement with an artificial lens). Before surgery, eye drops are used to prevent infection, make the pupil larger, and numb the eye area. After surgery, eye drops may reduce the risk of infection and help healing.

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye) is an infection or irritation of the conjunctiva -- the clear lining of the eyelids and the white surface membrane of the eye. Causes include bacterial or viral infection, environmental irritants, and allergy. It may also be caused by eyedrop allergy or toxicity, or by drops that have become contaminated.

Symptoms include itching, burning, redness, and swelling. Treatment may include using antibiotic or anti-inflammatory eye drops or removing the eye irritant.

Contact lens rewetting and eye surface lubrication. If your eyes sometimes feel dry while wearing contact lenses, choose eye drops specifically intended for use with contacts. Other drops could discolor your contacts or temporarily change their fit.

Corneal infection (keratitis). Causes may be due to a virus, bacteria, or parasite. Bacterial or parasitic infection is the most severe complication of wearing contact lenses and is much more common in extended wear lenses. It is also associated with poor lens hygiene; not replacing lenses, solutions, and cases as prescribed; and swimming in contact lenses. Minor infections may be treated with antibacterial eye drops. More severe infections may require fortified antibiotic drops or more extensive treatments, including surgery. Remove contact lenses immediately if you suspect your eyes are infected and seek immediate treatment.

Corneal transplant surgery (replacement of a diseased or scarred cornea with a clear one, usually from an eye bank). After surgery, eye drops are required to help healing and prevent rejection of the donor tissue.

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