Updated on 

November 17, 2021

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Best Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Best Eye Drops (Artificial Tears) for Dry Eyes

Nearly everyone experiences dry eyes at some point in their lives. Eye drops are a safe and effective treatment for most dry eye cases.

However, not all eye drops are the same. Lubricating eye drops, or artificial tears, are specially formulated to relieve dry eye symptoms.

Here are the five best eye drops for dry eyes, along with the best drops to treat allergies or redness.

Everything We Recommend

Best Budget (Basic Option): Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops

Best for Mild Dry Eye: Systane Long Lasting Lubricant Eye Drops

Best for Moderate Dry Eye: Refresh Plus Lubricant Eye Drops, Preservative-Free

Best for Severe Dry Eye: Systane Lubricant Eye Gel Drops

Best for Contacts: Opti-Free Replenish Rewetting Drops

Best for Allergy Relief: Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops

Best for Red Eyes: LUMIFY Redness Reliever

Best for MGD: Refresh Optive Mega-3 Lubricant Eye Drops, Preservative-Free or See Your Doctor

Dry Eyes Causes

There are many different causes of dry eyes. They can be biological or environmental.

Common causes include:

  • Digital eye strain (computer vision)
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Fatigue
  • Not blinking enough
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Aging
  • Smoking
  • Allergies
  • Pregnancy
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Living in a windy, dusty, or polluted environment
  • Certain medications (such as blood pressure medication, antidepressants, decongestants, or antihistamines)
  • Certain health conditions (such as thyroid diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Sjogren’s syndrome)
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)

The cause of your dry eyes will determine the best type of eye drops for you. See your eye doctor if over-the-counter eye drops are not helping. They can help determine the cause and treatment for your symptoms.

Types of Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Most cases of dry eye are caused by environmental factors or MGD.

Meibomian glands produce oils that cover your eyes and hold moisture in. MGD, or meibomian gland dysfunction, is a blockage and inflammation of these glands.

If over-the-counter (non-prescription) drops aren’t solving your dry eye problems, you may have MGD. There are several treatment options for MGD. Speak with your doctor to find the right treatment for you.

However, many cases of dry eye can be solved with OTC drops.

Non-Prescription

Non-prescription lubricating eye drops can treat most cases of mild to moderate dry eye. If your dry eyes are caused by environmental factors, these are the drops to start with.

There are two general OTC eye drops: eye drops with preservatives and those without preservatives.

Non-prescription drops may be traditional eye drops, gels, or ointments. Gels and ointments tend to stay in your eyes longer. They are recommended for overnight use.

Eye Drops With Preservatives

Many eye drops contain preservatives to make the solution last longer. These eye drops are cheaper and more convenient than those without preservatives. If you have mild dry eyes, these drops may be sufficient for you.

However, some people find that preservatives irritate their eyes. You should avoid eye drops with preservatives if:

  • These types of drops irritate your eyes
  • You apply eye drops four or more times per day
  • Your dry eyes are moderate to severe
Eye Drops Without Preservatives

Eye drops without preservatives are less irritating. They can be applied many times a day.

However, these eye drops are more expensive and inconvenient than those with preservatives. They usually come in single-use doses rather than a bottle or vial.

Preservative-free eye drops are recommended if you apply eye drops four or more times a day or regular eye drops irritate your eyes.

Prescription

Prescription eye drops are only available from your doctor. They are used to treat:

  • Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye syndrome)
  • Chronic dryness
  • Eye infections

If non-prescription eye drops do not treat your symptoms, visit your eye doctor.

8 Best Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Best Budget (Basic Option): Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops

Best for Mild Dry Eye: Systane Long Lasting Lubricant Eye Drops

Best for Moderate Dry Eye: Refresh Plus Lubricant Eye Drops, Preservative-Free

Best for Severe Dry Eye: Systane Lubricant Eye Gel Drops

Best for Contacts: Opti-Free Replenish Rewetting Drops

Best for Allergy Relief: Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops

Best for Red Eyes: LUMIFY Redness Reliever

Best for MGD: Refresh Optive Mega-3 Lubricant Eye Drops, Preservative-Free

Other Types of Eye Drops

There are several other types of eye drops made to treat other problems besides dry eye.

Rewetting Eye Drops

Rewetting drops provide relief for dryness and discomfort from wearing contact lenses.

Not all lubricating eye drops are compatible with contact lenses. You may need to remove your contacts before applying them. 

If your contact lenses are causing dry eye or discomfort, rewetting drops may help. 

If you believe your eye dryness is caused by something else, contact your eye doctor.

Read about the best eye drops for contact lenses.

Decongestant (Whitening) Eye Drops

Decongestant eye drops treat red eyes. They contain vasoconstrictors, which shrink the blood vessels in your eye, reducing redness.

Decongestant eye drops do not treat dry eyes. In fact, they can irritate your eyes if you use them too much. Additionally, your eyes can get dependent on them. 

You should only use decongestant eye drops intermittently. They are made to improve the appearance of your eyes, not treat any eye conditions. 

Antihistamine (Allergy) Eye drops

Antihistamine eye drops treat itchy, watery, red eyes caused by allergic reactions. Common allergens include pollen, pets, and mold, among others.

When your body has an allergic reaction, it releases histamines. These cause allergy symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, etc. 

The active ingredient in allergy eye drops are antihistamines. Therefore, antihistamine eye drops are only effective at treating symptoms due to allergies.

Read more about antihistamine eye drops.

Antibiotic/Antibacterial Eye Drops

Antibiotic (antibacterial) eye drops treat bacterial eye infections. Common eye infections include conjunctivitis (pink eye), contact lens infections, and styes.

Lubricating eye drops can help relieve symptoms of infections. However, they don’t cure them.

If you have an eye infection, it’s best to speak with an eye doctor before purchasing any eye drops.

Read more about antibiotic eye drops.

Others

Antifungal eye drops are used to treat fungal infections. 

Other Home Remedies & Tips for Dry Eyes

In addition to eye drops, there are other ways to help provide relief for dry eyes. 

Warm Compresses

Wet a washcloth with warm water, ring it out, and place it on your eyes for at least one minute. Then remove the compress and gently press the edge of your eyelid to squeeze out clogged oils. This can help unclog your oil making glands.

Eyelid & Eyelash Hygiene

Makeup, skin treatments, and certain conditions can also contribute to dry eyes. Clean your eyelids and eyelashes every day, as well as the skin and hair around your eyes. This can help reduce lid inflammation.

The 20-20-20 Rule 

This helps if your dry eyes are related to working on the computer, or doing other deep focus tasks. Every 20 minutes, stop and stare at an item 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is essential to keep your body functioning. Your eyes and tears need this hydration. Make sure to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.

Wear Wraparound Sunglasses 

If your dry eyes are the result of windy, sandy, dusty, or polluted conditions, sunglasses can help. Wearing wraparound sunglasses protects your eyes and keeps them from drying out.

6 Cited Research Articles
  1. Walsh, Karen, and Lyndon Jones. “The Use of Preservatives in Dry Eye Drops.” Clinical Ophthalmology (Auckland, N.Z.), Dove, 1 Aug. 2019. 
  2. Chan, Tommy, et al. “Update on the Association between Dry Eye Disease and Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.” Hong Kong Medical Journal, Hong Kong Academy of Medicine, Jan. 2019. 
  3. Benelli, Umberto. “Systane Lubricant Eye Drops in the Management of Ocular Dryness.” Clinical Ophthalmology (Auckland, N.Z.), Dove Medical Press, 2011. 
  4. Marner, Kirsten, et al. “Viscous Carbomer Eye Drops in Patients with Dry Eyes.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 27 May 2009. 
  5. Gobbels, Martin, and Manfred Spitznas. “Influence of Artificial Tears on Corneal Epithelium in Dry-Eye Syndrome.” Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology, Springer-Verlag, 1989. 
  6. Latkany, Robert. “Dry Eyes: Etiology and Management : Current Opinion in Ophthalmology.” Wolters Kluwer, Current Opinion in Ophthalmology, July 2008. 
Melody Huang is an optometrist and freelance health writer. Through her writing, Dr. Huang enjoys educating patients on how to lead healthier and happier lives. She also has an interest in Eastern medicine practices and learning about integrative medicine. When she’s not working, Dr. Huang loves reviewing new skin care products, trying interesting food recipes, or hanging with her adopted cats.
Michael Bayba earned his B.A. in English and Linguistics from the University at Buffalo. Upon graduating, he began researching, writing, and editing full-time. His passion for promoting health and healing in communities around the world has led him to create evidence-based and research-backed content on vision and other health topics. His mission is to help individuals find quality and affordable treatment so they can live a healthy life.
https://www.visioncenter.org/author/michael/
Author: Michael Bayba  | UPDATED November 17, 2021
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Medical reviewer: Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
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Dr. Melody Huang, O.D.
The information provided on VisionCenter.org should not be used in place of actual information provided by a doctor or a specialist.

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