Updated on  September 6, 2022
3 min read

Complete Guide to Lubricating Eye Drops (Artificial Tears)

5 sources cited
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Lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears, help retain moisture on the surface of your eyes. They treat dry eye symptoms.

Dry eyes can be the result of a lack of tear production or poor tear quality. Many factors can cause dry eye, including:

  • Old age
  • Sunny, windy, or dry conditions
  • Contact lenses
  • Staring at screens or pages for long periods of time
  • Certain medications
  • Eye surgeries
  • Systemic conditions

Lubricating eye drops do not need a prescription. They are available over the counter. 

There are also many brands to choose from. You might want to try different types before finding the kind that alleviates your symptoms. 

You may be interested in: The Best Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

3 Types of Lubricating Eye Drops

There are three main categories of lubricating eye drops:

1. Eye Drops with Preservatives

These are the most common and affordable eye drops. You have probably seen them on pharmacy shelves.

These eye drops have added preservative chemicals. This prevents bacteria from growing once the bottle is open and the liquid is exposed to oxygen.

For many people, preservatives have no negative effects on their eyes. For others, the preservatives irritate their eyes. This is often the case for people with moderate to severe dry eyes.

2. Preservative-Free Eye Drops

For people with moderate or severe dry eye, preservative-free eye drops may be a better option. They are recommended for anyone who applies eye drops more than four times per day.

These eye drops come in single-dose bottles, which are discarded after you put them in your eyes.

3. Lubricant Gel Drops

Gel-style artificial tears are also available. They have a higher viscosity, meaning they are thicker than regular eye drops. They are designed to last longer on your eyes.

For people who get severely dry eyes at night, these are a possible solution. Some people prefer them during the day as well because they can apply them less often.

Some people dislike them due to blur, stickiness, and build-up on eyelids and lashes.

Are Lubricating Eye Drops Safe?

Yes, many studies have shown that both lubricating eye drops and gels are safe and effective.1,2,3,4,5

Do not use eye drops with preservatives more than four times a day.

To determine the best eye drops, a doctor needs to consider your:1

  • Medical history
  • Ocular examination results
  • Clinical test results

If you only have mild dry eye symptoms, you can test brands of eye drops until you find one that alleviates your symptoms.

If your symptoms persist, or are moderate to severe, consult an eye doctor for eye drop recommendations.

Side Effects of Lubricating Eye Drops

The most common side effect of lubricating eye drops is temporary blurred vision. This typically resolves itself in a few seconds to a couple minutes.

Another possible side effect is temporary burning, stinging, or irritation. If these effects persist, contact an eye doctor.

Contact an eye doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Eye pain
  • Change in vision
  • Continued eye irritation or redness
  • Allergic reaction (itchiness, swelling, dizziness, nausea, or breathing difficulties)

How Do Lubricating Eye Drops Work?

Lubricating eye drops add similar elements that natural tears contain, hence the name artificial tears. 

The main functions of artificial tears are to:

  • Stabilize your tear film
  • Prolong tear film breakup time
  • Allow tears to properly protect the surface of your eye
Updated on  September 6, 2022
5 sources cited
Updated on  September 6, 2022
  1. Kathuria, Avani, et al. “Categorization of Marketed Artificial Tear Formulations Based on Their Ingredients: A Rational Approach for Their Use.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 21 Mar. 2021. 

  2. Moshirfar, Majid, et al. “Artificial Tears Potpourri: A Literature Review.” Clinical Ophthalmology (Auckland, N.Z.), Dove Medical Press, 31 Jul. 2014. 

  3. Doughty, Michael J., and Sara Galvin. “Efficacy of Different Dry Eye Treatments with Artificial Tears or Ocular Lubricants: a Systematic Review.” Wiley Online Library, Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 9 Oct. 2009. 

  4. Nilforoushan, Mohammad-Reza, et al. “Effect of Artificial Tears on Visual Acuity.” Elsevier, American Journal of Ophthalmology, 24 Nov. 2005. 

  5. Vehige, Joseph Glennon, et al. “Clinical Comparison of Gel-Type Artificial Tears.” Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, 26 Sept. 2016.

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