What Should I Consider When I Buy Eye Drops?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Eye drops come in a number of different formulations. Some are available by prescription only and are used to treat chronic dry eyes, seasonal allergies or infections. There are also many over-the-counter (OTC) drops that may be used for transient eye irritation called by allergies, or dry eyes.

Most commercial eye drops should be used for only a short time to avoid irritation.
Most commercial eye drops should be used for only a short time to avoid irritation.

Prescription Eye Drops are numerous. Some of the more well—known help the eyes produce tears and may assist with chronic dry eye. Olopatadine is a prescription-only variant used to treat itching, weepiness, and redness caused by allergies. Numerous prescription drops or ointments contain antibiotics and are used to treat eye infections caused by pinkeye, or eye injuries like scratched corneas.

Over the counter eye drops should be used for dry eyes or allergies.
Over the counter eye drops should be used for dry eyes or allergies.

Unlike OTC eye drops, prescription medications do need to be ordered by a medical professional. Most of them do prove very effective in treating the conditions for which they are used. Any drops or ointment used to treat infections should only be used by the person for whom they are prescribed, and should be discarded when the infection has cleared.

OTC eye drops come in numerous preparations as well. There are a plethora of artificial tears for treating chronic dry eyes. These do not cause the eyes to produce more tears, but the drops themselves lubricate the eyes and may help with dry eyes. Some OTC drops are targeted at reducing redness in the eyes, and may be helpful if one has bloodshot eyes. Other types are targeted toward the allergy sufferer, and may provide some short-term relief from itchy eyes due to allergies.

Most of the commercial brands and generic OTC eye drops do contain a high number of preservatives. These actually may irritate the eyes if the drops are used over long periods of time. They should, therefore, be considered for short-term use only. In fact, drops that help reduce redness may cause the eyes to be very dry and will not treat eye infections like pink eye.

OTC eye drops will generally not work when an eye is infected. In fact, one should not use over-the-counter products if one suspects pink eye or injury to the eye. Instead, one should see a healthcare provider to rule out infection. Pink eye is particularly contagious, and if you have used OTC eye drops at the onset of infection, you should again discard them immediately. As with any drops, use is intended for one person alone, so one should always consider buying each family member his/her own medication.

Over-the-counter eye drops are generally not effective in treating eye infections.
Over-the-counter eye drops are generally not effective in treating eye infections.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


If you are buying eye drops for the first time and have some difficulty putting them in, you can try a few different methods to get them into your eye.

First, just tilt your head back and try and drop the solution directly onto your eye. Have a tissue handy in case it drips.

If your aim is terrible, you can lightly tug your lower eyelid down a little bit with your finger, and aim the drop closer to your eye, careful not to touch your eye with the plastic end of the bottle.

Finally, if you always close your eyes when an eye drop is coming, just go with it. Drip the solution onto your closed eyelid and blink it in. This isn't the best solution but it works great with scared kids and nervous adults.


I find that I always need eye drops for allergies when spring rolls around. While I take allergy medication, it doesn't do much for my itchy eyes and I find the pollen irritates them.

I have noticed that the over the counter eye drops have been the cheapest option over the years, as the ones prescribed by the doctor can get very expensive.

One bottle of eye drops usually lasts me about a month, and I suggest trying a few different brands to find one that works for you. Some of them can actually cause drier eyes, while other seem to sting. I actually had one brand that burned and I ended up having to rinse out my eye. Try a few brands, and be careful, they are not all created equal.

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