Updated on 

November 23, 2021

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Complete Guide to Eye Drops

Everything We Recommend

Best for Dry Eyes: Refresh Plus Lubricant Eye Drops

Best for Contact Lenses: Opti-Free Replenish Rewetting Drops

Best for Redness: LUMIFY Redness Reliever

Best for Itchiness & Allergies: Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops

Best for Eye Infections: Speak with your doctor

Eye drops are a safe and effective treatment for many eye conditions. They can help you find relief if you experience:

  • Dry eyes
  • Redness
  • Itchy eyes
  • Dry eyes due to contacts
  • Soreness
  • Swelling or discharge

However, there are many different kinds of eye drops. Each type is designed to treat a certain set of conditions.

To find relief, you must make sure you’re using the correct type of eye drops. This guide will explain the different kinds of eye drops available, what they treat, and the best brands.

This guide does not replace advice from your doctor. Certain medical eye drops are only available with a prescription. If you have any questions about your eye health, make an appointment with an eye doctor.   

Types of Eye Drops

Lubricating Eye Drops (Artificial Tears)

The most common type of eye drops are lubricating eye drops, or artificial tears. They treat dry eyes caused by:

  • Digital eye strain (computer vision syndrome)
  • Eye strain from tiredness and other physical factors
  • Environmental factors like excess sunlight, wind, or dust
  • Medical conditions or medications
  • Aging

The ingredients in lubricating eye drops add moisture to your eye’s surface. This is why they’re also known as artificial tears.

There are two categories of lubricating eye drops:

  1. Eye drops with preservatives have added ingredients to fight the growth of bacteria once the bottle has been opened. These have a longer shelf life. However, the preservatives may irritate your eyes. Especially if you apply eye drops more than four times a day.
  2. Eye drops without preservatives are recommended for people who apply drops four or more times a day. They are for people with moderate to severe dry eye. 

Avoid decongestant (whitening) eye drops if you’re looking for dry eye relief. They may improve the appearance of your eyes in the short-term. But they can make dry eye symptoms worse in the long run.

If you have mild to moderate dry eye, lubricating eye drops may help you. If artificial tears do not improve your symptoms, consult a physician. 

Best Eye Drops for Dry Eyes: Refresh Plus Lubricant Eye Drops

Rewetting Eye Drops

Rewetting drops are made specifically for contact lens wearers. They provide relief for dryness and discomfort brought on by 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.

Best Rewetting Eye Drops for Contact Lenses : Opti-Free Replenish Rewetting Drops

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 can help improve the appearance of your eyes. However, they can mask the underlying causes of dry eyes.

Anti-redness drops 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. 

Best Eye Drops for Redness: LUMIFY Redness Reliever

Antihistamine (Allergy) Eye drops

Antihistamine eye drops treat itchy, watery, red eyes caused by allergic reactions. These may be caused by:

  • Pollen (seasonal allergies)
  • Pet dander
  • Molds
  • Other common allergens

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

Allergy eye drops contain antihistamines, which stop the effects of histamines. Therefore, antihistamine eye drops are only effective at treating symptoms due to allergies.

Read more about antihistamine eye drops.

Best Antihistamine Eye Drops: Zaditor 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
  • Styes

Antibiotic eye drops will NOT cure viral or fungal infections. Lubricating eye drops can help relieve symptoms of infections.

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.

Other Types of Eye Drops

Antifungal eye drops are used to treat fungal infections. 

How to Put in Eye Drops

Follow these step-by-step instructions to put in eye drops:

1. Read the Instructions

Before you handle your eye drops, make sure you know what you’re doing. If your eye drops are prescription, listen to your doctor. If your drops are over-the-counter, read the instructions entirely. 

2. Wash Your Hands

Before touching your eyes or eye drops, wash your hands. Be especially careful around the tip of your dropper. If you touch the dropper tip, it could pick up bacteria from your fingers. This could potentially contaminate the eye drops.

3. Get Comfortable and Prepared

You can stand, sit, or lay down to put in eye drops. Whatever makes you comfortable and helps you keep your eyes open. Shake the bottle vigorously before opening it.

4. Look Up and Squeeze the Bottle

Once you’re comfortable, the bottle is shaken and open, look up. Some people say that focusing on a specific point on the ceiling can help. Use one hand to pull your lower eyelid down. This forms a pocket to help “catch” the drop.

Using your other hand, position the dropper over your eye. Slowly squeeze the bottle until one drop falls onto your eye.

5. Close Your Eyes

Once the eye drop is in, close your eye for two minutes. After two minutes, the drop is fully absorbed. 

If you are supposed to put in more drops, you can then repeat the procedure. Keep your eye closed for two minutes between each drop.

Other Home Remedies & Tips for Dry Eyes

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

  • Warm compresses. Wet a washcloth with warm water, ring it out, and place it on your eyes for at least one minute. Gently press the edge of your eyelid to squeeze out clogged oils. This can help unclog your oil making glands.
  • Eyelid & eyelash hygiene. Clean your eyelids and eyelashes, as well as the skin and hair around your eyes. This can help reduce lid inflammation.
  • The 20-20-20 rule. This is a rule for when you’re working on the computer, reading, or doing other deep focus tasks. Every twenty minutes, stop and stare at an item 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Drink water. Staying hydrated is essential to keep your body functioning. Your eyes and tears are no different. Make sure to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water each day.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses. When you’re outside, winds can dry your eyes out. Wearing wraparound sunglasses can protect your eyes and keep them from drying out.
4 Cited Research Articles
  1. Benelli, Umberto. “Systane Lubricant Eye Drops in the Management of Ocular Dryness.” Clinical Ophthalmology (Auckland, N.Z.), Dove Medical Press, 2011. 
  2. Marner, Kirsten, et al. “Viscous Carbomer Eye Drops in Patients with Dry Eyes.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 27 May 2009. 
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
Author: Michael Bayba  | UPDATED November 23, 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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