What Are the Best Eye Drops for Dry Eyes?
Medically Reviewed by Madeline Hubbard, RN, BSN
Dry eye syndrome is a common and uncomfortable condition that occurs when your eyes cannot properly lubricate themselves. Many eye drops that treat the symptoms of dry eye are available over the counter. By design, said drops replace the mixture of fatty oils, mucus, and water that make up your natural tears. Although some more serious cases may require prescription medications, gels, or ointments, there are plenty of popular over-the-counter options to choose from if you're looking to treat itchy, dry eyes from home.
Popular Drops and Products Used to Treat Dry Eyes
So, how does dry eye occur? The underlying causes can vary greatly, but include the following:
- The natural aging process
- Laser eye surgery
- Temporary changes to your environment, such as sitting on an airplane or experiencing seasonal allergies
- Spending hours in front of a screen or computer monitor
- Certain medications
Additionally, you may also be more susceptible to dry eyes if you...
- Wear contact lenses
- Are going through menopause
Although things vary from patient to patient, the following are common symptoms of dry eye:
- Red eyes
- Blurry vision
- Excessive watering
- A scratchy or itching sensation
So, how does one mitigate these symptoms? For many, over-the-counter eye drops ("artificial tears"), gels, and ointments are all that is needed for dry eye relief, whether symptoms are caused by allergies, dust, contact lenses, aging, or too much time in front of a computer. If these products don’t help, speak with your primary healthcare provider or ophthalmologist to explore whether a prescription product or surgical procedure is right for you. However, for those looking to try over-the-counter products, here are some of the most popular remedies.
Avenova targets dry eyes with pure hypochlorous acid (0.01%), an ingredient cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe and effective treatment for long-term use. The solution works by lowering the bacterial load on the lashes and lids to help manage dry eyes. Although a prescription isn't necessary, this dry eye treatment uses a prescription-strength formula for optimal results. Aside from targeting bad bacteria, the treatment also corrects gland blockages.
Avenova can also help treat a condition called blepharitis. Blepharitis often occurs when the oil glands close to the base of the eyelash become blocked, which can lead to inflammation in the eyelid. Pure hypochlorous acid, such as that in Avenova, can halt the growth of bacteria that can cause this condition. Other common home treatments for blepharitis include a warm compress applied to the eyelids and rinsing the eyes with warm water, followed by drying them off with a clean, dry towel. Routinely cleaning the eyelids can open up previously clogged glands.
Bausch and Lomb Soothe
Bausch and Lomb has been in the "eye business" in the United States since 1853 and is a well-known name in contact lenses, introducing the first soft contact lens in 1971. The company has a highly recommended product line to remedy dry eyes called Soothe. The Soothe XP Emollient (Lubricant) eye drops contain a mineral oil mixture that helps restore the lipid layer that seals in moisture to protect your eyes. The Soothe line includes a gentle, preservative-free product that is ideal for those experiencing dry eyes following eye surgery such as LASIK.
Clear Eyes makes a number of products to treat dry eyes, including Clear Eyes Natural Tears Lubricant and Clear Eyes Advanced Dry & Itchy Eye Relief. The Natural Tears lubricant contains six ingredients that are naturally found in tears and works best for moisturizing the eyes on a daily basis. When used correctly, the solution can provide relief from symptoms up to 12 hours at a time. Additionally, it can keep the eyes from becoming even more irritated. Active ingredients include polyvinyl alcohol and povidone, both of which are lubricants.
The second option, Dry & Itchy Relief, also provides up to 12 hours of relief from symptoms. This eye drop also targets the dryness and irritation that tends to increase with age. The active ingredient is glycerin, which is a lubricant. These eye drops also contain sodium hyaluronate, which is a form of hyaluronic acid.
Other Clear Eyes products include Redness Relief, Cooling Comfort Redness Relief, Maximum Redness Relief, Maximum Itchy Eye Relief, Complete 7 Symptom Relief, Traveler’s Eye Relief, Triple Action, and Contact Lens Multi-Action Relief, so you are bound to find the product that is exactly right for you.
Visine is probably one of the best-known brands for dry eye relief on the market, thanks in large part to its popular Clear Eyes commercials featuring Ben Stein. The company offers several products to help combat dryness, redness, and allergies. To help you determine which product is right for you, Visine provides a product benefits filter on its site. Depending on your needs, you may be looking for a medication to treat dry eyes alone or a combination of symptoms, such as dryness along with allergies, or itchy, gritty eyes.
The product that's made specifically to moisturize dry eyes is called Visine Dry Eye Relief. This product has several ingredients found in natural tears and simultaneously soothes, moisturizes, and protects eyes. The product's active ingredient (polyethylene glycol) is a lubricant.
Refresh specializes in manufacturing lubricant eye drops to soothe dry and irritated eyes. Options include tear products, gels, and ointments. If you're not sure which is right for you, use the filters on the side of the products page to narrow down the options. You'll find preservative-free drops along with relief from dryness caused by LASIK, eye dryness from lipid layer deficiency, as well as general relief from nighttime dryness. Other options include preservative and preservative-free drops.
Gels are recommended for those with mild to moderate dry eyes. Because gels aren't as thick as ointments, they can be used to relieve dry eyes in the morning. Ointments are also effective, but are generally reserved for those with ocular surface disease to protect their eyes as they sleep, according to Eye World. Both forms of medication can cause blurred vision, which is why some doctors suggest using them at night right before bed.
Restasis is a prescription-only product that actually increases tear production to overcome the irritation associated with keratoconjunctivitis sicca, a chronic condition of dryness of the cornea and conjunctiva. When the tear glands (lacrimal glands) become inflamed, fewer tears are produced and the film protecting the eye breaks down, creating dry, inflamed spots. The active ingredient in Restasis is cyclosporine, which acts to suppress this inflammation. It takes a few months of consistent twice-daily use for Restasis to restore your eyes’ normal tear production. Speak to your healthcare provider if your dry eye concerns are chronic to find out if they warrant prescription treatment.
Another popular line of dry eye products is the Systane brand, including Complete Lubricant Eye Drops, Hydration Preservative-Free Eye Drops, and Ultra Lubricant Eye Drops. Like other similar drops, the Systane line hydrates your eyes, protects against tear evaporation, and soothes the redness and irritation. Systane Nighttime is a preservative-free ointment that gives your eyes long-lasting protection overnight.
Note: Preservatives are often added to dry eye products to prevent the growth of bacteria in the bottle after it has been opened. Some preservatives can further irritate your eyes. If you need dry eye relief multiple times during the day, you may want to choose a preservative-free choice that has fewer additives.
"Dry Eyes" via Mayo Clinic
"Artificial tears: How to select eye drops for dry eyes" via Mayo Clinic
"Treatment & Management of Blepharitis" via Dry Eye Insider
"Treatment & Management of Dry Eyes" via Dry Eye Insider
"Lubricating Eye Drops for Dry Eyes" via American Academy of Ophthalmology
Avenova (product information)
Bausch + Lomb (dry eye product information)
Clear Eyes (product information)
Visine (product information)
Refresh (product information)
Restasis (product information)
"Guide your patients toward better gel and ointment use" via EyeWorld
Tear Film (Ocular Surface Disease)
"Blepharitis" via National Eye Institute