Eye lubricants

Eye lubricants, also known as artificial tears, are used in the treatment of dry eye or following a corneal ulcer or injury.

There are different types of eye lubricants:

  • Eye drops with preservative: these may be packaged in multi-dose containers with a preservative.
  • Preservative-free eye drops: available in single-dose containers.
  • Ointments: these are retained in the eye longer than drops because of their thicker consistency.

If you need to apply eye lubricant frequently, it's generally recommended that you use preservative-free drops.

If you wear contact lenses, you should check with your optometrist or pharmacist that the product is compatible with the lenses, as some eye lubricants contain preservatives that may affect contact lenses.

Side-effects

  • If you use eye drops/lubricant with preservative frequently, you may react to the preservative with symptoms such as stinging, burning and red eyes. If this is the case, you should switch to a preservative-free lubricant.
  • Ointments may cause temporary blurring of vision. Because of this, some people use lubricant drops during daytime and an ointment at night.
  • Unpleasant taste in your mouth.
  • If you have a serious allergic reaction with symptoms such as hives or difficulty breathing, get emergency medical help by dialling 000. This is very rare.

Correct application of eye products

To apply drops:

  • always wash your hands first;
  • open the container, then pull the lower eyelid gently down with your forefinger to form a pocket;
  • tilt your head slightly back and look up; 
  • holding the bottle between the thumb and forefinger, gently squeeze one drop into the lower eyelid pocket; and
  • close your eyes for 1-2 minutes.

To apply ointment:

  • hold the tube between the thumb and forefinger;
  • tilt your head slightly back;
  • pull down your lower eyelid gently to form a pocket;
  • rest your hand against your nose to position the tip of the ointment tube aiming at the pocket;
  • look up and away;
  • apply a small strip of ointment into the lower eyelid pocket;
  • blink gently and keep your eye closed for 1-2 minutes.

Caution

Do not touch the eye with the dropper or tube tip.

You should discard all drops, solutions and ointments about one month after opening to avoid bacterial contamination. In hot weather, it is preferable to store eye lubricants in the fridge. Single dose lubricant eye drops remain sterile until opened, if used within the expiry date printed on the packet. They are thrown away after one day's use.

Keep drops in a cool place away from the sun.

Last Reviewed: 14 October 2015
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References

1. Mayo Clinic. Dry eyes. I have dry eyes. What should I look for when selecting artificial tears? Feb 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/expert-answers/artificial-tears/faq-20058422 (accessed Sept 2015).
2. Drugs.com. Artificial tears. Revised July 2014. http://www.drugs.com/mtm/artificial-tears.html (accessed Sept 2015).
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