Artificial tears, also called lubricant eye drops, are sold over the counter and are readily available in pharmacies, grocery stores, and supermarkets. These eye drops can be used for a wide array of eye conditions including dry eye syndrome, eye allergies, pink eye, and many more.
What is an Artificial Tear?
An artificial tear is an eye drop that does not contain any medication but is rather made up of ingredients that help improve or replace the tears on the eyes.
These ingredients typically consist of things which mimic the natural composition of the tear film but have added additional things to improve the thickness or consistency of the eye drop.
The agents which help to thicken the artificial tears are usually organic lipids or fats.
These fatty molecules give the eye drops a thicker, more oily texture compared to typical eye drops which are more watery.
Types of Eye Drops
While all artificial tears are sold over the counter rather than with a prescription from a doctor, there are differences among them.
A key difference among artificial tears is whether the drops contain a preservative or are considered preservative free.
Drops with a preservative will usually come in a larger bottle that can be used many times as long as the cap is replaced after use.
On the other hand, preservative free artificial tears typically come in single use vials which are designed to be used once and then discarded.
Preservative free artificial tears have significantly less risk of causing an allergic reaction or resulting in damage to the eyes.
Another way artificial tears are differentiated is by the thickness of the drops.
The thicker the artificial tear is, the longer it will remain on the front of the eye.
Thick artificial tears may even be sold as gels or nighttime ointment for those who have problems with dry eyes overnight.
How Artificial Tears Work
Artificial tears are designed on the principle that the eye is healthier and more comfortable with a solid, uniform tear film.
Artificial tears will add to or replace the tears naturally produced and create a more even, better quality tear film.
By having this smoother, more uniform tear film, the eye will have less susceptibility to dryness, itching, or damage.
When to Use Artificial Tears
Artificial tears are most often used for the signs and symptoms of dry eyes.
Any amount of mild eye irritation, blurred vision between blinks, or redness of the eyes can be an indicator that the eyes are dry.
Artificial tears act as a supplement to the naturally tear film and are used to reduce these symptoms.
Another common use of artificial tears is for eye allergies. Allergies are not treated with artificial tears, rather there are medication eye drops to treat or prevent the allergies.
However, eye allergies will frequently cause subsequent dry eye as a result of the itching and watering symptoms or a side effect of the allergy treatment medications.
In these cases, artificial tears can be used in addition to an allergy eye drop.
Pink eye is caused by a virus called adenovirus. There is no treatment available for pink eye that will prevent the infection of the virus.
But, artificial tears and cool compresses can be used as a way to improve the symptoms and quicken the recovery process from pink eye.
Choosing a Lubricant Drop
When going to purchase an artificial tear, it is important to know the reason why the drop is needed.
If the artificial tear is for nighttime use only, a thicker drop may be beneficial but if the drop is to provide quick relief from dryness during the day, the same thicker drop would cause unnecessary problems.
If you have questions about which artificial tear would best suit your needs, consult your eye doctor.