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Eye Drops: An Ocean of Uses

Common Uses for Eye Drops continued...

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

Glaucoma (increased fluid pressure inside the eyes; untreated, it may cause serious optic nerve damage and vision loss). Eye drops to lower eye-fluid pressure -- by reducing fluid production or increasing fluid drainage from the eye -- are most commonly used to treat early glaucoma.

Here's a recent eye drop advance: For at least five years, researchers studied patients who had high eye pressure but who had not initially developed glaucoma. They found that treating certain patients -- particularly those with African-American ancestry -- with pressure-lowering eye drops reduced their risk of glaucoma by more than 50%.

If you have glaucoma, do not use eye drops that contain vasoconstrictors (topical decongestants). These make small blood vessels smaller. This could worsen the already increased pressure in your eyes.

Herpes simplex (viral) eye infection. Early symptoms may include a painful sore on the eye surface (or eyelid) and corneal inflammation. Prompt treatment with antiviral eye drops or gel is often used to prevent more serious eye damage.

LASIK (laser in situ keratomilieusis) eye surgery. LASIK can correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. Anesthetizing eye drops are used before surgery to prevent pain. After surgery, eye drops are used to help healing and prevent infection.

Lubrication and protection ("artificial tears"). The main ingredient in over-the-counter brands of artificial tears is either hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (ophthalmic) or carboxymethylcellulose. Although artificial tears are considered very safe, check with your doctor if:

  • You're allergic to any type of preservative.
  • You've ever had an unexpected or allergic reaction to hydroxypropyl methylcellulose or carboxymethylcellulose.

Try several brands of artificial tears to find one that works best for you.

WebMD Medical Reference

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