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Eye Health Center

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Eye Drops: An Ocean of Uses

Common Uses for Eye Drops continued...

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.

Can You Be Addicted to Eye Drops?

Some nonprescription eye drops to relieve allergy symptoms and "red eyes" contain vasoconstrictors (topical decongestants). These eye drops may cause "rebound" swelling and redness, which may lead to chronic eye redness. The redness may even get worse with continued use. Ask your eye doctor which eye drops are safest for you.

It is not possible to become overly dependent on artificial tears lacking preservatives. Because these eye drops contain harmless moisturizing substances and no medication, they are very safe no matter how often they are used.

Some eye drops contain benzalkonium chloride preservative, which can cause hypersensitivity reactions. Discuss this with your doctor whenever you use any eye drops frequently and for a long time, such as for treatment of glaucoma.

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