Types of Eye Drops and When to Use Them

Young woman pouring eye drops in her eyes

When used correctly, over-the-counter eye drops can help soothe eye irritation, redness, and swelling to help you maintain healthy vision. Here’s a short guide to three types of eye drops and when it’s appropriate to use them.

  1. Anti-allergy drops

    These types of eye drops provide relief from itchy, watery eyes caused by allergens such as pollen, mould, grass and dust. Anti-allergy drops contain antihistamines that block your body’s response to these triggers, effectively eliminating your symptoms. However, the relief tends only to last a few hours, and therefore, you may have to use the drops multiple times throughout the day.


    In addition, anti-inflammatory eye drops can be used to treat more severe allergic reactions and usually contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These ingredients act on the nerve endings around the eye to reduce itchiness and swelling.

  2. Lubricating drops
    Lubricating drops or artificial tears help keep the surface of your eyes hydrated and reduce irritation. Artificial tears are thicker and more soothing than saline washes and contain substances to help your eyes retain moisture, such as humectants, lubricants and electrolytes. However, some artificial tears contain preservatives which can cause increased eye sensitivity. Since each brand is formulated slightly differently, you may have to try several options to find the one that works best for you.

  3. Decongestant drops
    These types of eye drops help reduce the appearance of red, bloodshot eyes. Decongestant drops contain vasoconstrictors, which minimize the size of the blood vessels in your eyes, making them appear less red. However, the effects tend to wear off fairly quickly, which can lead to overuse. Consequently, you shouldn’t use this type of eye drop for more than a week, as this could worsen your symptoms.

Lastly, the key to choosing the right eye drops is to determine the cause of your symptoms. Your optometrist will be able to assess your situation and select the best treatment for your eyes. In addition, whichever eye drops you choose, make sure to follow the instructions on the label to minimize the risk of irritation and other side effects.

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