What are Dry Eye Drops?

Mary McMahon

Dry eye drops are preparations which are designed to moisturize and lubricate the eye to address the symptoms of dry eye. Numerous dry eye drops are available on the market in both prescription and over the counter formats. Ophthalmologists recommend that patients talk to their eye doctors before purchasing a dry eye product to get recommendations and to receive an eye exam if they have not been examined recently.

Dry eye drops are usually an easy solution that doesn't require seeing a doctor beforehand.
Dry eye drops are usually an easy solution that doesn't require seeing a doctor beforehand.

People with dry eye experience irritation and soreness in their eyes because the eye is not lubricated enough. Dry eye commonly appears as people get older, and it can be linked with a medical condition or appear independently. Depending on the cause, it may be possible to cure dry eye, or a patient may only be able to use various treatments to manage the condition. Dry eye drops are an easy solution to dry eye which may be tested before an eye doctor recommends more invasive or expensive techniques.

Rinses with a mild saline content can be used to deal with dry eyes and irritation.
Rinses with a mild saline content can be used to deal with dry eyes and irritation.

Simply adding a mild saline solution to the eye can bring mild relief, but as soon as the solution evaporates, the patient will experience discomfort again. For this reason, dry eye drops include lubricants which are designed to seal moisture into the eye, providing long-term relief from dry eye. Dry eye drops are distinct from products which are designed to address redness in the eyes, as they are specifically designed to help the eyes retain moisture, rather than to minimize the appearance of redness. Some drops are also capable of stimulating tear production, helping the eye lubricate itself as it would naturally.

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People with chronic dry eye who are being seen by an ophthalmologist can access prescription dry eye drops, with several formulations available for patients with different conditions. Many over the counter products are equally effective and they can be less costly than prescriptions, which can be a concern for patients who will be using dry eye drops for life. However, not all over the counter products are created equal, and it is a good idea to talk to a doctor who can provide product suggestions which will meet a particular patient's needs.

Patients who wear contacts are not able to use all dry eye drops, because the drops can interfere with the contacts or damage them. For these patients, drops can only be applied when the contacts are out, or the patient will need to use dry eye drops when have been formulated for use with contacts. People with contacts should be especially careful about over the counter eye drops of any variety, as they are not always safe for use with contacts.

A beaker of polysorbate 80, which is often included in dry eye drops.
A beaker of polysorbate 80, which is often included in dry eye drops.

Discussion Comments


I had been using drops for dry eyes before I got contacts, so after I started wearing the lenses, I needed to use drops even more often. My eye doctor told me about a couple of brands that were safe to use with contacts, and I was able to find one of them fairly cheap at a drugstore.

I like not having to have a prescription for the drops. I don't have to bother with insurance or calling in refills. I just pop on over to the store and buy them when I need them.

I probably apply the drops to my eyes with the contacts in about seven times a day. That sounds like a lot, but it is worth it to be able to see and to wear contacts comfortably. I've heard many people say that they never could get used to the dryness, so I'm glad the drops work for me.


@lighth0se33 – Theoretically, yes, but it takes time. Since plain old moisturizing eye drops for dry eyes don't constrict the blood vessels, they can only improve the appearance of the eyes as the condition of the eyes gets better.

So, if you wake up with dry, red eyes, it would actually be better if you stayed away from the redness reducing drops and used the moisturizing drops instead. That would give your eyes a jump on waking up and focusing more, and it would make them feel better, too.

I have been using moisturizing eye drops for years, and my eyes are a lot less red than they once were. I use them whenever my eyes feel tired, and it helps wake me up.


It seems that the eye drops made to reduce redness actually make my eyes drier than they are. I naturally assumed that any type of eye drop would be moisturizing, but I was wrong about this.

I frequently wake up with dry, red eyes, so I use the redness reducing eye drops to get rid of the tired look. It works for awhile, but since my eyes are so dry, the redness returns in a few hours.

This makes me wonder if the redness might disappear on its own if I took care of the dryness. Can regular moisturizing drops eliminate redness by improving the moisture level in the eyes?


I have a lot of issues with allergies in the spring, and my eyes itch so much that I rub at them constantly. When I take an oral antihistamine, it tends to dry them out, and though it stops the watering, it doesn't always get rid of the itching.

So, I use allergy eye drops. They are made to counteract the effects of allergens on the eyes specifically, and they are the only thing that can stop the itching.

I really have issues after mowing the yard, so this is when I rely on the allergy eye drops the most. I have to take an oral antihistamine for my sinuses, and this makes my eyes dry. Without the drops, I would be miserable for hours.

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