Potential Risks & Side Effects of Over-The-Counter Eye Drops?

The use of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops or artificial tears has witnessed a rapid increase in recent years; particularly due to the long hours where more and more people are spending in front of their computer screens. With increasing screen time and rising levels of stress, a majority of people are having issues with their eyes. Be it with their vision or with dry eyes, eye-related problems are on the rise and people are turning towards over-the-counter eye drops are a solution for quick relief. However, remember the old saying that everything in moderation? Well, the same applies to using over-the-counter eye drops as well. over-the-counter eye drops are very helpful as they provide immediate relief from symptoms and you don’t need to consult a doctor and get a prescription to avail the medicine. However, there are many risks and side effects associated with OTC eye drops that you should be aware of. Let us look at what these are and why it is harmful to use over-the-counter eye drops regularly.

Introduction to Over-The-Counter Eye Drops

In general, there are two types of eye drops or artificial tears that are available in the market. These include eye drops that include preservatives in them and another is preservative-free eye drops. It is obvious that eye drops that contain preservatives in them will have a longer shelf life; and thus most chemists will prefer to stock up on these. These preservatives are what stops bacteria from growing in the medicine and often times are harsh chemicals. This is why you cannot continue to use one bottle of eye drops for a long period of time.

While these preservatives increase the shelf life of these eye drops, there is a drawback to these chemicals. The preservatives in these over-the-counter eye drops can often cause eye irritation or dry eye to become worse. Ophthalmologists generally recommend that over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops with preservatives should not be used for more than four times in a day, that too if you really need it. Try to use it only two to three times a day and for maximum three days at a stretch, not more than that to avoid any complications.

Potential Risks of Over-The-Counter Eye Drops?

Potential Risks of Over-The-Counter Eye Drops?

Over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops are made with several ingredients. These also include thickeners and preservatives. Every one of us is made in a different manner and it is possible that these ingredients may cause further irritation to your eyes if used in the long run. Other potential risks include loose safety seals of the bottles, which may give rise to bacterial contamination of the eye drop, and of course, using an already contaminated eye drop. Let us take a look at how preservatives in the over-the-counter in the eye drops increase our risk of eye irritation and infections.

Risk of Eye Irritation with the use of Over-The-Counter Eye Drops

For the convenience of chemists and pharmaceutical companies, preservatives are added to over-the-counter eye drops to give them a longer shelf life. However, what many people remain unaware of is that these preservatives are often made from harsh chemicals, which can cause further irritation to your eyes. You should always make sure to read the label of ingredients on the bottle of your eye drops to ensure whether or not they contain preservatives. If your over-the-counter eye drop contains preservatives, then you should not apply more than four doses in one single day. Try to also limit it to only three times. If you are suffering from severe dry eyes then you might need to use eye drops more than four times, but then you should opt for purchasing preservative-free eye drops. This is why it is important to always read the labels carefully before you begin to use over-the-counter eye drops.

Risk of Contamination with the use of Over-The-Counter Eye Drops

A bottle of over-the-counter eye drops can become contaminated quite easily. If the tip of the bottle touches your eye or another surface then it becomes contaminated. Therefore, you must exercise caution while using an eye drop bottle. Make sure that you replace its cap as soon as you finish using the eye drops and also be careful not to touch the tip of the bottle to your eye. If the tip had touched some other surface, then you risk infecting your eye.

Risk of Injury from Over-The-Counter Eye Drops

Loose safety seals are also a factor of concern. In fact, the US Federal Drug Agency (FDA), has warnings in place that advice against purchasing over-the-counter eye drops that have a loose safety seal or ring. There are also many types of eye drop bottles that have ill-fitting parts that have ended up landing in the user’s eyes. Make sure that after opening the bottle, the safety seal remains attached to the bottle. If they are loose, they can cause potential injury to the eye. So better to remove them altogether. Try to buy an over-the-counter eye drop that has a firmly attached safety seal.

Side Effects of Using Over-The-Counter (OTC) Eye Drops

We often tend to assume that over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears have no side effects. However, this is far from reality. Some eye drops can have serious side effects. For example, right after applying the eye drop you may suffer from cloudy vision. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after some minutes of applying the eye drops. Also be careful of allergic reactions from over-the-counter eye drops. If you notice symptoms such as swelling, wheezing, hives, dizziness, or vomiting, stop using the eye drops at once and get medical help urgently.


In a mild to moderate case of dry eyes or minor eye irritation, using over-the-counter eye drops is a good option. However, pay attention to the label and follow certain precautions:

  • If your eye drops contain preservatives, then do not exceed dosage beyond four times a day.
  • If your eye drops is a single-use eye drop, then throw away the bottle after each use.
  • Be careful about side effects of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops and maintain your eye drop bottle in good hygienic conditions.

If you experience any side effects or irritation after use, do consult a doctor immediately.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 30, 2019

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