The drug store can feel like a maze at times. Finding the right type of artificial tear eye drop can be a daunting task but learning about the differences can help with that process. Not all eye drops are the same and your optometrist may suggest a specific brand and type. In those cases, it is important to follow the doctor’s recommendations. However, if given the option to select “any artificial tear” these are some of the key things to watch out for.
There are a variety of reasons your eye care practitioner may be recommending artificial tears, ranging from dry eye to healing from refractive surgery. The main purpose for these eye drops is to provide or support a protective tear layer constantly covering your eyes. Without a good tear film, one could experience stinging eyes, blurry vision, or delayed healing time.
The most commonly reached for ophthalmic product from the drug store shelves would be eye drops. These are the least viscous of the different options and are prescribed for a variety of conditions. The consistency is similar to water and leads to the least amount of blurring. The trade-off is the quick evaporation of the drop compared to the other consistencies.
Gel drops are the mid-way point between drops and ointments in terms of viscosity. The thicker consistency provides longer-lasting moisture to the eye. In exchange, the user may experience a moment of blurry vision after instilling the drop, which will become less noticeable with blinks.
Ointments are the most viscous of the various medications used on the eye. These often come in small tubes and have a toothpaste consistency. These may be recommended to you by your eye care practitioner for kids, seniors, or overnight use as they cause some blur after application. The benefits of ointments is their ability to stay on the eye for the longest amounts of time compared to eye drops or gels. This allows for fewer instillations of an eye drop/ gel.
Preservatives are added to eye drops to maintain sterility of the product with continual use. Benzalkonium chloride (BAK) is a commonly used preservative that some patients may be sensitive to. BAK may also decrease the stability of the tear film constantly overlying the eye. A stable tear film on the eye is necessary to protect against conditions such as dry eye as well as promotes healing. For this reason, preservative-free eye drops, no longer containing BAK, were developed. These drops are often packaged into individual single-dose vials to prevent contamination. Some companies have developed multi-dose preservative-free bottles.