Eye-Whitening Drops: Are They Safe?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 08, 2022
2 min read

If your eyes are often red, you might wonder if whitening drops can help. They’re available over-the-counter and easy to get, but are they safe?

For years, the leading eye-whitening product was tetrahydrozoline, which you know by its over-the-counter name, Visine. It works by opening arteries in your eyes.

In 2017, the FDA OKd a low-dose version of brimonidine tartrate, which was first prescribed to treat glaucoma. The lower dose, over-the-counter version is called Lumify.

The drug tightens blood vessels in your eyes and limits the amount of blood and oxygen that can get to them. This makes your eyes clearer for a while.

Talk to your eye doctor first to make sure it’s OK. Check the package for the drops you’re using, but in general:

  • Wash your hands well
  • Pull down your lower eyelid
  • Put 1 drop in each eye
  • Don’t use more than 4 times a day (every 6-8 hours)

Eye-whitening drops are generally considered safe. Doctors say using them too much might hide a condition that needs treatment, like pinkeye or a corneal ulcer. Yellow in the whites of your eyes could be a sign of liver disease.

Everyday use could also cause a “rebound effect.” Your eyes may be even redder after the drug wears off. This is especially common in tetrahydrozoline drops. Benzalkonium chloride, the preservative, might irritate your eyes.

Some people have side effects while others don’t. More common side effects can include:

  • A burning feeling in your eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry or itchy eyes
  • Discharge or excessive tearing
  • Eyelid swelling
  • Halos around lights
  • Headaches
  • Lights appearing brighter than usual
  • Night blindness
  • Redness on the eye or the inner lining of the eyelid
  • Seeing colors differently
  • Seeing double
  • Tunnel vision

Some side effects, like burning or stinging, may go away once your eyes get used to the medicine. If they don’t, stop using the drops and talk to your doctor about next steps.