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Eye Drops: An Ocean of Uses

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Common Uses for Eye Drops continued...

Dry eye (low tear production, common with aging). Tear "quality" is determined by the health of each of the three tear-film layers:

  • The outer, oily layer, which helps prevent moisture evaporation.
  • A middle, watery layer, which nourishes the eye.
  • An inner, mucous layer which helps the middle-layer nutrients to moisten the cornea.

With poor-quality outer and inner layers, tears don't stay on the eye long enough to lubricate it. This may cause a "sandy" or scratchy feeling. Other symptoms may include:

  • Burning or stinging
  • Pain and redness
  • Stringy eye discharge
  • Eyelid heaviness
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Excessive tearing ("Reflex" tears do not help relieve dry eye, because they don't stay in the eye long enough.)

Artificial tears are commonly used to lubricate dry eyes during the day. Other treatments are helpful in more severe cases.

Eye allergies (symptoms include eye itching, tearing, redness, watery discharge, stinging, and burning). Many different types and brands of eyedrops help relieve "allergy eye" (allergic conjunctivitis) symptoms. They include artificial tears, which do not contain medication, and eyedrops containing medications such as:

  • Antihistamines, which provide short-lived relief.
  • Mast cell stabilizers, which are similar to antihistamines, but provide longer-lasting relief. Some newer eye drops contain both antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers for both quick and long-lasting relief.
  • Decongestants, which are available (alone or with antihistamines) in many nonprescription eye drops, including those that reduce redness. These drops should not be used longer than two to three days to avoid the "rebound effect" of increased -- and potentially chronic -- redness and swelling.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which can be helpful but may cause stinging and burning briefly when applied.
  • Prescription corticosteroids, which may be used short-term and cautiously (because of potential side effects) to help relieve severe or chronic eye allergy symptoms.

If you have eye allergies and wear contact lenses, ask your eye doctor about eye drops that will help keep your lenses clean during allergen exposure.

Eye exams. During a complete eye exam, the eye doctor may use:

  • Drops to dilate pupils (to make a "bigger window" for viewing inside the eye)
  • Drops to numb the eye while testing for glaucoma

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