Eye drops are one of the most popular and effective medications used today, providing instant relief to symptoms of various eye problems. Depending on the kind of eye condition you have, they may either be bought without a prescription—also known as over-the-counter or OTC eye drops—or otherwise. However, if you find yourself reaching for your eye drops, it might be time to re-evaluate your usage. As it turns out, prolonged or frequent use can do more harm than good.
In this blog, Excel Eyecare OD PA, your local provider of eyeglass frames and contact lenses, explains the effects of overusing eye drops.
A Primer on Eye Drops
But first, we need to discuss eye drops that most people use, which are the OTC eye drops. These are ones that are administered to relieve symptoms of most eye problems, from dry and red eyes to irritated and sore eyes. They also tend to cost less than prescription eye drops. Below are some of the most common OTC eye drops available in local pharmacies:
- Artificial Tears
Also known as lubricating eye drops, these medications can provide relief for short-term dry eyes caused by temporary circumstances like being outside on a windy or sunny day, using mobile devices and laptops for extended periods, and experiencing tiredness. Most of them contain electrolytes or thickening agents to supplement the components of the tears you produce, boosting your eyes’ moisture and comfort.
- Decongestant Eye Drops
Also known as whitening eye drops, these contain vasoconstrictors that help minimize the redness in your eyes. They work by shrinking the blood vessels on the sclera or the white part of the eyes and the conjunctiva or the clear tissue on top of the sclera.
- Antihistamine Eye Drops
Itchiness and redness in the eyes are some of the most common symptoms of allergies. Histamine in the eye tissues makes the eye water and become puffy or swollen. Antihistamine eye drops can help alleviate these symptoms. Some decongestant eye drops also have antihistamines, and although they can treat itchy eyes caused by allergies, these aren’t usually recommended for long-term use.
Prescription eye drops, meanwhile, are used to treat other symptoms that indicate a serious eye infection like swelling or “mattering” or a thick, yellow or greenish discharge. These include various types of “pink eye” or conjunctivitis. Individuals in such cases should first undergo eye health exams to determine the right prescription; OTC eye drops may not help reduce these symptoms.
The Effects of Eye Drops Overuse
While eye drops provide instant relief, they are not meant for long-term eye care. That’s why OTC medications come with labels indicating the recommended usage. This varies depending on the eye drops, but it is a cause for concern if it is being used regularly. So, if you are consistently exceeding the daily recommended usage or consider eye drops as the cure rather than a temporary solution to your eye condition, you might be overusing the product.
Dependency on eye drops can lead to several problems. These include the following:
- “Rebound Effect”
Decongestant eye drops, if used too often, can cause eye dryness and irritation, and dilated pupils. Worse, your eyes can develop a tolerance to how the solution constricts the blood vessels in your sclera and conjunctiva to reduce redness. Discontinued use can cause “rebounding,” which is also known as rebound hyperemia. As soon as the effects wear off, your eyes work harder than ever to deliver blood to oxygen-deprived ocular structures. This, however, causes the blood vessels to enlarge and get redder. As a result, you reach for those eye drops once more until you become dependent on them to keep your eyes look less red.
- Loss of Natural Tears in Your Eyes
Artificial tears are generally safe and can be used as often as possible provided that they don’t contain preservatives. Those with preservatives have chemicals designed to keep bacteria from growing in the packaging once opened. Because artificial tears feel great when applied, some people deliberately overuse these medications. Unfortunately, doing so washes away the tears and their natural components from the outer surface of their eyes. Prolonged usage can lead to dependency on the drops to moisturize and soothe the eyes.
- Failure to Address an Underlying Problem
Overusing eye drops creates a false sense of hope for individuals who think that they can address the cause of the eye condition. In reality, addiction to these medications masks more serious eye problems, which can be risky if left untreated. Conjunctivitis, for instance, causes itchiness, a burning sensation, and swelling in one or both eyes. Eye drops won’t help alleviate the itchy feeling; the condition either goes away or needs to be treated using a prescription antibiotic. In other cases, eye drops are used to reduce itchy or dry eyes only to find out that it is because of a foreign object or trauma.
Ways to Reduce Eye Drops Overuse
OTC eye drops are a good option if you have symptoms of dry eyes or are suffering from allergies that cause your eyes to water and feel puffy. Be sure that before you make the purchase, pay attention to the instructions on the label. If you purchase eye drops with no preservatives, you can use them as often as you want; otherwise, don’t exceed four the recommended usage of four doses a day. If you’re buying single-use drops, dispose of the bottle immediately after use. More importantly, keep track of side effects while using the medications. Practice good hygiene as well, especially when handling a bottle of eye drops.
Of course, before anything else, consult your eye doctor. An eye exam could reveal underlying issues and catch vision-related problems before they’re too late to be corrected. Again, eye drops are temporary solutions and shouldn’t be treated as a long-term fix. Don’t use it to make your eyes feel comfortable while you neglect the real cause.
Turn to Excel Eyecare OD PA for the eye care needs of you and your family. We offer LipiFlow treatment for dry eye diseases, LASIK eye surgery consultation, and more. Call us at (980) 399-6071 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment.