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Eye Drops: An Ocean of Uses

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.

Are Eye Drops Suitable for Children?

The answer to this question is mainly "yes" for general eye lubrication and for specific eye conditions (see below). But you should be aware that medicated eye drops' safety and effectiveness have not been well studied in children. Check with your child's doctor or pediatrician about the exact recommended dosage. Then follow those instructions exactly. Report any side effects to the doctor immediately.

Eye drops may be used in children to treat:

Allergies. Eye drops used to treat children's allergy symptoms include:

  • Artificial tears, which are safe and suitable for children of all ages.
  • Eye drops containing antihistamines alone or antihistamines/mast cell stabilizers -- used in children age 3 and older.

"Lazy eye" (amblyopia -- dominance of one eye in seeing -- usually seen in children under age 6). Typically, a parent or other observer will first note the most obvious symptom: squinting or closing one eye to see clearly. Other symptoms include poor vision, headaches, and eyestrain.

Patching the dominant eye to strengthen the weaker one has long been the treatment for lazy eye. But researchers have found that in some cases, using atropine eye drops in the stronger eye to blur its vision, thus making the weak eye work harder, is as effective as patching and more acceptable to children. The eye drops were equally effective when given once daily or only on weekends.

What's New in Eyedrop Research?

For starters, how about a possible replacement for eye drops? A team of researchers has developed biodegradable nanoparticle delivery of medications to the eye. Medication is contained in a particle so small that millions of them could fit onto an ant. Placed into the eye just once, the particles degrade slowly and release their medication in a controlled manner.

Also on the horizon:

  • Eye drops that could replace eye injections in patients with the wet form of age-related macular degeneration.
  • Eye drops combined with a laser eye test to diagnose Alzheimer's disease earlier than is possible now.

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