The Best Types of Eye Drops After LASIK Surgery

7 sources cited
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Why Do You Need Eye Drops After LASIK?

As your eyes recover from laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) surgery, it's common to experience temporary dryness accompanied by mild irritation and itchiness.1, 2 According to research, post-LASIK dry eye symptoms usually peaks in the first couple months after surgery.3 

Lubricating eye drops, also known as liquid tears, can be applied to the affected eye to ease the negative side effects of the surgery. These eye drops also provide a sanitary option for delivering medication to the eyes. 

Since the LASIK scar is prone to infection, eye doctors prescribe antibiotic eyedrops and steroid eye drops to prevent infection and inflammation.4

Timeline For Post-LASIK Eye Drops

Your eye doctor will provide a timeline for using your post-LASIK eye drops. It’s usually several weeks to months after surgery. Over-the-counter eye drops may be used for as long as you feel any dryness.

On average, antibiotic eyedrops are used for 7-10 days.  On the other hand, steroid drops such as Prednisolone Acetate are used sparingly over 2 weeks.5 

What Will Happen If You Don’t Use Eye-Drops After LASIK?

If you don't use eyedrops to ease your symptoms and prevent mild side effects of the procedure, the following may happen:

  • Mild symptoms will become severe. Severe dry eyes can lead to dislodging of the LASIK flap due to constant friction as you blink or rub your eyes.
  • The scar may get infected. Without tears or antibiotic eye drops, harmful bacteria will increase in numbers and potentially cause serious infections or blindness.
  • Diffuse lamellar keratitis (DLK). This is inflammation under the LASIK flap caused by the accumulation of white blood cells under the flap. 
  • Prolonged recovery process. Eyedrops enable a smooth healing process. Constant irritation and infections will delay the healing timeline.
  • Blindness. Although rare, poor post-op care practices after LASIK can cause serious complications that put your eyesight at risk.6

Experts advise LASIK patients to carry eye drops for a few months after the procedure. If you forget to use your drops, apply them as soon as you remember.

6 Best Types of LASIK Eye Drops 

Below are the market's best types of eye drops for LASIK recovery.

1. Best Overall: SYSTANE® ULTRA Lubricant Eye Drops

Systane Ultra Lubricant Eye Drops are clinically proven to offer long-lasting relief from dry eyes and associated symptoms, such as blurriness, excess tearing, and gritty eyes. The active ingredients are polyethylene glycol and Propylene glycol.

The manufacturer, Alcon Laboratories, Inc, markets it as the #1 doctor-recommended brand of artificial tears, offering single-use convenience.

The preservative-free formula provides night protection and is safe to use before and after wearing your contact lenses. However, seek your doctor's advice before wearing contacts following LASIK surgery.

The drops are available in 25ct, 60ct, 4mL, 10mL, and twin packs. 

2. Best for Severe Dry Eyes: SYSTANE® Gel Drops

This thick formulation provides lubrication and long-lasting relief from dry eye irritation after LASIK. Once you apply the drops, the formula creates a thick film over your eyeball, acting as a barrier against irritating dry air or debris. This significantly eases severe dry eye symptoms.

It offers the convenience of a drop with the protection of a gel. Systane Gel drops are available in 10mL and 10mL twin packs, making them perfect for at-home or on-the-go use.

3. Best Budget: REFRESH TEARS® Lubricant Eye Drops

Designed to work like your natural tears, REFRESH TEARS® offers instant lubrication and moisturization to your eye without stretching your budget. The active ingredient in this product is Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium (0.5%). 

Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops offer temporary relief to dry eyes and further irritation from wind or sun exposure. 

The drops come in a convenient multi-dose bottle, are safe with contact lenses, and can be used as often as needed.

4. Best Lubricating: Blink® Tears Lubricating Eye Drops

Blink Tears Lubricating Eye Drops are made of a unique visco-adaptive formula that maximizes hydration and restores tears' natural salt balance. The main ingredient in the formula is Polyethylene Glycol 400 (0.25%).

Blink Tears provide instant relief for LASIK patients with mild to moderate dry eye symptoms, including itching and burning sensation.

The manufacturer claims that the lubricating formula is designed to last longer in the eye and works with every blink to provide long-lasting relief. It also reduces the occurrence of blurring associated with other types of eyedrops.

Blink Tears Eye Drops are available in 0.5 fl oz (15mL) and 1.0 fl oz (30mL) bottles.

5. Best for Night-Time Comfort: GenTeal Tears Lubricant Eye Gel 

GenTeal Tears offers a thick formula that forms a protective coat on the eye's surface, delivering fast, soothing relief. 

This formula is best used as a nighttime gel to refresh and moisturize your eyes as you sleep. GenTeal Tears also protect against further eye irritation by elements such as wind or the sun.

Put one or two drops in the eyes when you go to bed or as needed. 

6. Best Preservative Free: REFRESH OPTIVE® Lubricant Eye Dropst Eye Drops 

Refresh Optive is a preservative-free option with a fast-acting, dual-action formula that lubricates and hydrates to relieve mild dry eye symptoms. The two active ingredients are Carboxymethylcellulose Sodium (0.5%) and Glycerin (0.9%), both lubricants.

While you can use any over-the-counter eye drops after LASIK, consider liquid tears with no preservatives. Preservatives can result in unintended eye irritation. 

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What to Look For in Eye Drops

In addition to being preservative-free, good eye drops for dry eyes will have:

  • Lubricating agents (most products artificial tears have them)
  • Guar gum or Hydroxypropyl-guar (HP-Guar).7 This is an agent that’s helpful if your tears dry/evaporate off quickly.
  • Antibacterial agents to prevent infections

What If Dry Eye Symptoms Don’t Improve?

Without enough tears, your eyes will be prone to irritation, inflammation, and possible infection.

If your dry eye does not improve after LASIK surgery, consult your ophthalmologist for professional advice during your follow-up visits. They'll examine your eyes to rule out any underlying conditions and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Other Ways to Prevent Dry Eye After LASIK

Eye drops are not the golden solution to all dry eye problems. Other ways to prevent dry eyes after LASIK include:

  • Avoiding smoking or smoky environments
  • Avoiding dry areas (dry weather conditions)
  • Protecting your eyes from pollen, dust, and other particulate matter in the air
  • Wearing eye protection, such as sunglasses or prescription goggles, in appropriate situations
  • Using Scleral Contact Lenses to maintain tears within the eye
  • Drinking plenty of water (keeps the body and eyes hydrated)
  • Changing your diet (e.g., including omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods and supplements)

Following the above prevention measures and proper eye drop use will enhance healing outcomes after LASIK by preventing complications and reducing the recovery timeline.

When to See Your Eye Doctor

Dry eye symptoms after LASIK are only temporary and should ease up with time. However, if you experience persistent and severe dry eyes accompanied by the following, reach out to your eye doctor:

  • Little or no relief from prescription eye drops
  • Blurry vision or fluctuating vision
  • Severe eye pain
  • Bleeding 
  • Difficulty performing normal day-to-day activities

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Summary

  • After LASIK surgery, you need eye drops to ease symptoms of dry eyes and prevent infections and inflammation
  • There are several eye drop brands in the market, each designed to offer long-lasting relief to dry eye symptoms
  • The best brand overall is SYSTANE® ULTRA Lubricant, which is preservative-free and offers single-use convenience
  • Other top brands include SYSTANE® gel drops, REFRESH TEARS® Lubricant Eye Drops, GENTEAL TEARS Lubricant Eye Gel, and REFRESH OPTIVE®
  • If your eye drops do not improve your dry eye symptoms, consult your eye doctor for advanced treatment.
Surgeon performing LASIK Procedure

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7 Cited Research Articles
  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Laser in situ Keratomileusis (LASIK),” www.aao.org, 2013.
  2. Wallerstein, Jackson et al.,  “Management of post-LASIK dry eye: a multicenter randomized comparison of a new multi-ingredient artificial tear to carboxymethylcellulose,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2018.
  3. Shtein R., Post-LASIK dry eye,” Expert Review of Ophthalmology, 2014.
  4. Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today. “Post-LASIK Infiltrates and Infection,” crstoday.com, 2010.
  5. Fahd and Fahed., “Delineation of LASIK Flaps with Prednisolone Acetate Eyedrops,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2014.
  6. Refractive Surgery Council. “LASIK Complications and LASIK Eye Surgery Risks,” americanrefractivesurgerycouncil.org, 2022.
  7. Petrice, Berta et al.,  “Hydroxypropyl-guar gellable lubricant eye drops for dry eye treatment,” Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy, 2008.
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