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Here’s why eye drops may pose a risk to your health – and what to know about using them.

Ophthalmic products such as eye drops have been linked to eye infections in recent months. This has prompted the recalls of several over-the-counter (OTC) eye drop products. The recalls occurred due to the risk of contamination that could lead to infections, some serious enough to cause temporary loss of vision or even permanent blindness.

Products used in the eyes must be sterile, especially because anything introduced to the eyes bypasses some of the body’s natural defenses. Not only may there be a risk of contamination from a product itself, but how you use products intended for your eyes also poses a risk.

Here are tips for making it less likely you’ll develop an infection due to the use of eye drops or other ophthalmic products:
  • Wash your hands before using any product that will go in your eyes, including eye drops and contact lenses.
  • Do not touch the tip of the bottle or allow it to come in contact with any surface, including your clothing, hair, the counter or anything else.
  • Do not touch your eye with the tip of an eye drop bottle.
  • If you experience any type of side effects when using eye drops, stop using them and call your doctor.
  • Do not use any products intended for your eyes that are not approved by the FDA. Unapproved products may include ingredients that are dangerous for your eyes or have not gone through proper sterilization processes.

In addition to the risk of infection caused by some brands of over-the-counter eye drops, ophthalmologists often discourage people from using certain types of eye drops, such as those intended to remove redness or whiten eyes. The reason for this is two-fold. One is that these eye drops work by constricting the blood vessels in your eye. This may cause your eyes to become dry and you may need to use the drops several times a day or may become dependent on them. Another reason doctors may discourage use of these eye drops is that they can mask a problem that may be more serious. If you keep having a problem with redness and irritation and keep using eye drops to relieve your symptoms, you may be ignoring an issue that needs to be addressed by a doctor.

If your eyes are dry or irritated on occasion and you’re thinking of using eye drops, consider using artificial tears. These preservative-free drops are lubricating and are gentler on the eyes. Be sure to check which brands have been recalled by the FDA so you don’t use any eye drops that may pose a potential risk of infection. Also, avoid using any eye drops that have been sitting around your house for a while and may have become contaminated by coming into contact with harmful bacteria.

If you continue to have redness, irritation or other eye symptoms, let your eye doctor know. It is best to have a comprehensive eye exam, especially if you haven’t had one in the last year, to make sure there is no underlying problem causing your symptoms that needs to be addressed.


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Date Last Reviewed: March 19, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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