How to Safely Instill Eye Drops - Mayo Clinic
The Right Way to Use Eye Drops
Yes, you can soothe red or irritated eyes with eye drops — but first, learn how to use them so you avoid eye infections. Here's your step-by-step guide.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Over-the-counter eye drops can be helpful for people whose eyes are dry, irritated, or red. But it’s important to use the right eye drops in the right way to get the relief you seek and to prevent eye infections.
“All of these drops have a preservative in them that reduces the risk of infection,” explains ophthalmologist James Salz, MD, clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “The most common way people contaminate a bottle of eye drops is by touching the lashes with the dropper tip. The bacteria can get into the bottle, but the preservative will reduce the risk of getting an infection.”
If you worry about using eye drops over the long term, rest assured that it’s safe — as long as you follow a few basic rules.
Step 1: Determine What Kind of Eye Drops You Need
Two basic types of eye drops are available over the counter: artificial tears and eye drops that combat redness. Although mixing them up won’t damage your eyes, you should select the right product for the relief you need.
- Artificial tears.There are a variety of different artificial tear products. “You just have to keep trying until you find one you like,” Salz advises, adding that people who have dry eye may need to get prescription drops from a doctor if artificial tears do not ease the sensation of dryness and irritation.
- Redness relief.Most people use eye drops to get rid of redness. “There are several of those, such as Prefrin, Naphcon, and Clear Eyes. They all work. They all just decongest the eye, so they're good for using on a smoggy day or after coming out of a pool when your eyes are red,” says Salz. If you choose eye drops for redness, just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle and keep in mind that using these products too frequently or for too many days in a row can sometimes make redness and irritation worse.
Step 2: Learn How to Apply Eye Drops
These are Dr. Salz's suggestions for safe application of eye drops:
- Start by washing your hands.
- Tilt your face slightly, looking up.
- Gently pull your lower lash rim away from the eyeball.
- Allow the eye drops to fall into your eye along the rim.
- Blink to spread the eye drops around.
As long as the tip of the eye dropper doesn’t touch your lashes or your skin, there will be no transfer of any bacteria.
Step 3: Keep an Eye on the Expiration Date
All eye drop bottles include a date that date indicates when the drops expire. Despite the fact that over-the-counter eye drops contain preservatives, they do expire after a year, warns Salz, after which you won’t get the full effect of the medication. Toss out old eye drops and buy a new bottle.
Step 4: Know When to Call a Doctor
Certain things should prompt you to contact your doctor about the eye drops you’re using:
- If you wear contacts often and do not get relief from your OTC eye drops.
- If you have used eye drops as instructed, but your eyes are getting worse or you have new symptoms of pain or irritation.
Don’t use more eye drops than the directions recommend, especially if you aren’t getting relief. “You don’t want to overuse any of these drops,” Salz cautions. “The preservative in them can cause some irritation.” Plus, your doctor will want to examine you to make sure you don’t have an underlying eye infection.
If you do need to see your doctor, take the eye drops with you or make a note of the brand name to keep your doctor well informed. In most cases, however, if you take the right precautions, you can use over-the-counter eye drops without worry.
Video: How To Use Eye Drops (2018)
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