Woman hugging a giant tear drop.

Are Over-the-Counter Redness Relief Eye Drops Useful for Chronic Dry Eye?

Redness relief eye drops, which include eye drops from brands like Visine or Clear Eyes, are well known. You have probably seen commercials for them on TV or the internet. You may even have tried to use these eye drops to help with your chronic dry eye (CDE).

Unfortunately, there is not much to suggest that redness relief drops can help treat CDE. In fact, doctors warn that using redness relief drops too often could hurt your eyes.1

What is in redness relief drops?

Redness relief drops contain vasoconstrictors like naphazoline.2 Vasoconstrictors work by shrinking blood vessels.1 Some redness relief drops also contain antihistamines.2 Antihistamines are medicines that make allergic reactions less severe.

What do they do?

When the blood vessels on the surface of your eyes shrink, they appear less red and feel less irritated. Antihistamines in eye drops can also help your eyes to feel less itchy.1 This makes redness relief and antihistamine eye drops ideal for people who are experiencing an allergic reaction to something in their environment, including:3

  • Pollen
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Mold
  • Debris from nearby construction or demolition
  • Cats, dogs, and other household pets

Redness relief drops can also help people whose eyes are red due to injury, smoking, alcohol use, or glaucoma.4

What do they not do?

There are many redness relief drops that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for temporary relief of symptoms. They are meant to be used every now and then to help temporary irritation.2

CDE causes irritation that is not temporary, but chronic. If your eyes bother you all the time, you may feel tempted to use redness relief drops all the time. But this will not help you. Constant use of redness relief drops can actually cause your eyes to become redder and more irritated in the long run.1

The biggest problem with redness relief drops for CDE is that these drops will not actually give your eyes what they need. If you have CDE, then your eyes need moisture. However, redness relief drops are not moisturizing.

This can be confusing – after all, these drops are a liquid, and you want more liquid in your eyes. But think about how your skin can feel dry after you take a shower. Does putting water on chapped lips make them better? No. Liquids often wash away your body’s moisture instead of replacing it.5

What can you use instead?

When your eyes are working the way they should, they moisturize themselves with tears. When your eyes stop working the way they should, you need more tears – or products that imitate tears. These products are called artificial tears.1

Artificial tears are sold over the counter as:6,7

  • Eye drops
  • Gels
  • Gel inserts
  • Ointments

The main ingredients in artificial tears are lubricants and electrolytes to help hydrate your eyes. They will not fix an itchy allergic reaction or make red eyes look less bloodshot. But they can make those with CDE feel more comfortable.1

Artificial tears are sometimes made by the same companies that make redness relief drops. The 2 types of drops can also come in the same kind of bottle. It can be very easy to confuse different kinds of eye drops. This is especially true if the CDE or eye irritation causing you to seek drops also makes your vision worse.8 Always check the label before you buy any eye drops.

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about redness relief drops, antihistamines, or artificial tears, or any questions about how to help treat your CDE.

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