Eye Drops: Getting the Red Out

An eye expert’s timely tips for this all too common condition

SAN DIEGO, CALIF (August 2018) - Ever had red eyes just before an important event, like your kid sister’s wedding or a first date with that special someone? You want to look your best, so you stop by the drugstore to grab some eye drops for a quick fix. Problem solved! Or is it?

“Eye drops that simply ‘get-the-red-out’ aren’t something most doctors would recommend,” says Sandy T. Feldman MD, Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center in San Diego. “They are okay to use now and then, but it’s better to avoid such products altogether.”

Products that promise to remove redness from the white part of the eye work by using vasoconstrictors. The drops make the blood vessels in the eye contract, which makes the whites of the eyes appear brighter as the redness fades. But as the drops begin to wear off, the redness not only returns, it can even become worse. Over time, more and more drops must be used to get the same clear-eyed results.

“This is such a common issue with eye drops that many product manufacturers are searching for solutions for it,” says Dr. Feldman. “In fact, the FDA just approved a new over-the-counter product called LUMIFY that works by selectively targeting redness, which helps alleviate rebound redness and loss of efficacy over time.”

Instead of merely treating the symptoms, eye doctors say it is better to focus on the underlying cause of eye redness. And aside from infections, most cases of red eyes are caused by a condition known as dry eye. People around the world are experiencing dry eye this summer, as the weather has been very hot and dry pretty much everywhere.

Eye lubricants (or “artificial tears”) can help temporarily by adding much-needed moisture. Lubricating drops are available as prescription eye drops or over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. OTC eye drops can be an appropriate solution in many cases, and are also more convenient and cheaper. Both prescription and non-prescription drops come in various forms; some are watery and light, while others are thick gels that last longer but can cause blurriness.

“Another factor to consider is preservatives,” advises Dr. Feldman. “Preservatives help prevent the growth of bacteria, but they can make the eyes more sensitive. Unless someone has a serious case of dry eye, I recommend using eye drops that don’t contain preservatives. The only downside is that these drops tend to be sold in single-use containers, so they’re a bit pricier.”

Another key thing to note: redness-relieving drops are not safe for everyone. People with glaucoma should avoid OTC remedies since some eye drops can increase pressure in the eye. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also talk to their doctors before using any eye remedy, as some drops can affect a developing baby or be transmitted through breast milk.

While it’s not necessary to see a doctor for occasional eye redness, Dr. Feldman encourages anyone experiencing any of the following symptoms to seek medical treatment:

  • Chronic redness and blurry vision
  • Intense pain and itching
  • Green or yellow discharge from the eyes
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Feelings of pressure in the eyes
  • Chronically dry, itchy eyes
  • Seasonal eye redness that might be allergies

“Be sure to consult a doctor about any concerns about red eyes. Eye redness is highly treatable, even when it's caused by a serious medical condition,” says Dr. Feldman.

About Sandy T. Feldman, MD
Sandy T. Feldman, MD is the Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center - voted best LASIK center in San Diego by the San Diego Union Tribune (2016 and 2017) and CityBeat Magazine two years in a row. Her numerous awards include “Top Doc San Diego” and the Goldline Award, an honor granted to only 10 laser eye care providers in the U.S. each year. She has also been profiled in Forbes, Newsweek, and other respected publications. Dr. Feldman is a fellow of the prestigious American College of Ophthalmic Surgeons, as well as a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. She has successfully performed more than 20,000 refractive procedures. For more information, visit clearvieweyes.com.

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