How to Choose Safe and Effective Over-the-Counter Eye Drops (2023)

Eye drops are a common solution for various eye conditions, ranging from minor irritations to chronic vision problems. They can be easily purchased over the counter at most pharmacies and big box stores. However, it is crucial to ensure that the eye drops you choose are safe and effective for your specific needs. In this article, we will provide you with valuable information on how to shop for and apply eye drops safely, helping you make informed decisions about your eye health.

Types of Eye Drops

Before purchasing eye drops, it is essential to understand the different types available and their specific purposes. Here are some common types of eye drops:

1. Lubricating Drops (Artificial Tears): These drops are designed to relieve dryness, redness, and irritation in the eyes. They contain ingredients like polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol, which help lubricate the eyes and provide relief.

2. Anti-Allergy Drops: These drops are formulated to alleviate itchiness, redness, and other irritations caused by allergies. They contain antihistamines such as ketotifen, olopatadine, carboxymethylcellulose, and glycerin.

3. Anti-Redness Drops: These drops contain ingredients like tetrahydrozoline or brimonidine, which reduce the swelling of blood vessels in the eyes. They are designed for occasional use and should not be used regularly.

4. Antibiotic Drops: These prescription eye drops are used to treat eye infections, such as pink eye or corneal ulcers caused by bacteria. Common antibiotics used in these drops include gentamicin sulfate and ciprofloxacin.

5. Steroid Drops: Steroid eye drops are prescribed to reduce inflammation symptoms like swelling or redness, especially after eye surgery.

6. Drops for Treating Specific Conditions: Eye doctors may prescribe various other types of eye drops to treat specific conditions like myopia and glaucoma.

It is important to consult with your eye doctor to determine the most suitable type of eye drops for your specific eye condition.

Shopping for Eye Drops Safely

When shopping for eye drops, it is crucial to consider several factors to ensure their safety and effectiveness. Here are some tips to help you choose the right eye drops:

1. Consult with Your Eye Doctor: Before purchasing any eye drops, it is always recommended to consult with your eye doctor. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific eye condition and medical history.

2. Check for Recalls and Warnings: Stay informed about any recalls or warnings issued by regulatory authorities like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can easily check if a specific eye drop product has been listed in any FDA or CDC warnings or recalls by searching the product name on Google.

3. Read Ingredient Labels: Take the time to read the ingredient labels of eye drops to identify any potential allergens or irritants. If you have known allergies, it is important to avoid eye drops that contain ingredients to which you are allergic.

4. Consider Preservative-Free Options: Some eye drops contain preservatives to prevent bacterial growth. However, these preservatives can sometimes cause irritation, especially for individuals with sensitive eyes. If you have experienced sensitivity or recently had eye surgery, consider using preservative-free eye drops, which are generally gentler on the eyes.

5. Follow Proper Application Techniques: Once you have chosen the right eye drops, it is crucial to follow the proper application techniques to ensure their effectiveness and minimize the risk of contamination. Here are some important steps to follow:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before applying eye drops to prevent introducing dirt or bacteria into your eyes.
  • Tilt your head back and pull down your lower eyelid to create a small pocket.
  • Squeeze the appropriate number of drops into the pocket created by pulling down your lower lid.
  • Release your eyelid and close your eyes for about 30 seconds to allow the drops to spread evenly across your eyes.
  • If needed, repeat the process for the other eye.

Remember to always follow the instructions provided with the eye drop product for the correct dosage and frequency of use.

Potential Side Effects and When to Seek Medical Attention

While eye drops are generally safe to use, they can sometimes cause side effects, especially if you have allergies or sensitivities. Common side effects may include redness, swelling, itching, or soreness in the eyes. If you experience prolonged burning, discharge, hives, swelling, wheezing, dizziness, or vomiting after using eye drops, it could indicate an allergic reaction or an underlying eye infection. In such cases, it is important to contact your eye doctor immediately for further evaluation and guidance.

Proper Storage and Care of Eye Drops

To ensure the effectiveness and safety of your eye drops, it is important to store and handle them properly. Here are some tips:

1. Follow Storage Instructions: Eye drop products usually come with specific instructions regarding storage temperature and location. It is important to follow these instructions to prevent spoilage or the development of bacteria.

2. Check Expiration Dates: Eye drops have expiration dates printed on their bottles. It is crucial to check these dates and discard any eye drops that have expired. Once opened, eye drops with preservatives are typically effective for about 28 days, while single-application vials should be discarded immediately after use.

3. Keep the Bottle Sterile: To avoid contamination, ensure that the eye drop bottle remains sterile. Avoid touching the dropper tip with your hands or allowing it to come into contact with your eyes. Always replace the cap immediately after use and store the eye drops in a clean and sterile environment.


Choosing safe and effective over-the-counter eye drops is essential for maintaining good eye health. By understanding the different types of eye drops, shopping wisely, following proper application techniques, and seeking medical attention when necessary, you can ensure the well-being of your eyes. Remember to consult with your eye doctor for personalized recommendations and advice. Safeguard your vision by making informed decisions about the eye drops you use.

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