By Dr. Paul Neumann

Those of you listening to your eyes when they scream for help might be wondering which eye drops you should reach for. This is a good question, with no simple answer.

If you walk into a drugstore, you will see an entire wall of eye drops all claiming to be the one. But before you risk product-overwhelm at the drug store, you may want to consider seeing your optometrist.

If your eyes are red, your vision is blurred, you’re experiencing any pain, light sensitivity, or discharge of any kind, have your eyes examined before spending $20 on that bottle of drops.

Sometimes your eyes aren’t screaming, but just nagging due to discomfort from too much computer time. Your eyes could also be harder to open than usual when you wake up, or they might have an uncomfortable, gritty or burning sensation. In these cases, topical treatment is a good place to start. If you put the drops in and get instant relief, this is a positive sign. If not, there could be something more complex going on.

There’s no such thing as single-use drops

Standard commercial preparations used up to 4x per day are generally considered normal for symptom relief. The reality is that using 4 drops per day is not something you can do for a long time. If you need to use drops more than twice a day to get relief, I recommend visiting your eye doctor, as prescription drops are available as a longer-term solution.

For those who need chronic help, a recommendation I make to all my patients is to use preservative-free drops. The box will have the appropriate label on them. Eyes don’t like preservatives and their chronic use can make your eyes worse in the long run.

Another word of warning: avoid eye drops that claim to reduce or eliminate redness. You should know why your eyes are red before using these types of products. Many of these products actually have a rebound effect, meaning they mask the redness for a while, but then get worse when the drug wears off, until you use it again. Eventually, you need more and more to get the same effect. Kind of sounds like some other drugs we hear about.

Drugstore eye drops can be used safely for a short period of time, but chronic use is ill-advised without doctor supervision. Glaucoma warnings are on the label too. These products need to be used cautiously.

Finally, eye drops come in two general flavours: oil-based and water-based. Many are a combination of both. These combination eye drops tend to be the most expensive but also work best when you’re not sure what’s causing your dry eyes. If you are in pinch and need to choose, a combination drop would be my recommendation, just like a broad-spectrum antibiotic is the best choice when the particular offending bacteria is unknown. The two big combination drops in Canada are Refresh Fusion by Allergan and Systane Complete by Alcon. There are many similar products to these and this is where the pharmacist can help.

If you want to know more about the cause behind your irritated eyes, book an appointment with one of our optometrists today. We also sell a range of eye drops in our office, and can help you find the best product for relief.