Ophthalmologic drops treat or provide relief for many different types of eye conditions. There is a wide array of over-the-counter and prescription eye drops to treat dry eye, allergies and inflammation, itching, viral or bacterial infections or glaucoma. Eye drops are also used to dilate the eye or as an anesthetic. Eye drops are most useful when used to treat conditions that directly affect the surface or the eye, but most drops are not recommended for long-term use as there may be an underlying issue that should be treated by a physician.
Dry eye is a condition in which the tear ducts do not produce enough moisture, and a person may complain that his eye is itchy, burning or inflamed. Some ophthalmologic drops for dry eye help to moisture eyes, such as artificial tear drops. Others help stimulate the production of tears, such as cyclosporin eye drops.
Ophthalmologic drops also treat symptoms caused by allergies or inflammation. Decongestant eye drops, for example, remove the redness from the eyes by constricting the flow of blood to the vessels in the eye. Antihistamine eye drops are another type of over-the-counter medication that can be used to soothe eyes that are itchy and swollen from seasonal allergies or allergic conjunctivitis.
Bacterial conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, can be treated with prescription antibiotic ophthalmologic drops. Antibiotic eye drops either are prescribed to kill bacteria, stop bacteria from growing or are combined with steroids to help fight infection and reduce inflammation. A person with viral conjunctivitis will normally be prescribed artificial tears or lubricating eye drops as well to lessen the discomfort.
Ophthalmologic eye drops to treat glaucoma help relieve or decrease intraocular pressure, which prevents the build up of fluid and resulting pressure from damaging the optic nerve. Glaucoma eye drops are categorized by the main chemical ingredient. There are prostaglandins, beta-blockers, alpha-adrenergic agonists, carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, parasympathomimetic agents, epinephrine and hyperosmotic agents. Most people will need to take more than one type of these eye drops, and there are combination eye drops that can also be prescribed.
Doctors use dilating ophthalmologic drops to enlarge the pupil so he or she can examine the eye, including the optic nerve, lens and retina. Likewise, anesthetic drops are used by an optometrist or ophthalmologist to numb the eye before performing a procedure, such as a removing a particle from the eye. People should not use anesthetic drops on a normal basis as they can cause serious permanent damage.