OTC Artificial Tears vs. Prescription Eye Drops

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with dry eye disease. However, they state that as many as 50 million could suffer from dry eye symptoms at any time.

If you experience eye dryness, you know how uncomfortable it is. Thankfully, you can try several treatment options for dry eye relief.

Continue reading as we explore the differences between over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears and prescription eye drops to treat dry eyes.

What Are Dry Eyes?

Dry eye disease (DED) is when your tears don’t provide enough lubrication for your eyes. Dry eye may cause you to have the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Eye irritation with your contact lenses
  • Mucus buildup in or around the eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Scratchy or itchy eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stinging or burning eyes
  • Watery eyes

If you suffer from these symptoms, comprehensive eye exams are available to determine if you have dry eye syndrome.

What Causes Dry Eyes?

Two main reasons you may experience dry eyes are decreased tear production and increased tear evaporation.

Decreased Tear Production

Unfortunately, decreased tear production is more common as you age, which is why many people over 50 suffer from chronic dry eye.

Decreased tear production is also expected for those who suffer from certain health conditions, such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus 
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Scleroderma
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vitamin A deficiency

Additionally, some medications can cause dry eyes as a side effect. These include:

  • Acne medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines
  • Birth control
  • Decongestants
  • High blood pressure medications
  • Hormone replacement therapy

Increased Tear Evaporation

You have small glands, called meibomian glands, on the edge of your eyelids that produce an oil film to keep your eyes lubricated. One of the most common causes of increased tear evaporation is meibomian gland dysfunction. If these glands become blocked, your tears evaporate quicker, causing dry eye.

Other common causes of increased tear evaporation include:

  • Allergies
  • Blinking less often
  • Environmental factors, such as smoke or dry air
  • Eyelid problems like ectropion and entropion
  • Preservatives in over-the-counter eye drops
  • Vitamin A deficiency

It’s essential to visit an eye doctor to determine the cause of your dry eye. Only then can you receive the right dry eye treatment.

Managing Symptoms From Increased Tear Evaporation

Although eye drops can significantly help those who suffer from dry eye caused by increased tear evaporation, there are other methods to help alleviate your symptoms:

  • Use a warm compress on your eyes. The compress helps to unclog your meibomian glands so the oil can flow freely. Next, gently press a warm wet cloth on your eyes for several minutes as needed.
  • Massage your eyes to help push out excess oil. Close your eyes and gently rub your eyelids in a circular motion. You can also move your fingers up toward your lash line to massage the lower eyelids.
  • Change your diet. For some, an omega-3 fatty acid supplement can help the meibomian glands produce more oil. However, before taking any supplements, ask your eye doctor if it’s the right decision for your specific condition.

Which Eye Drops Are Best for Dry Eye?

Nowadays, dry eyes are relatively common. So chances are that besides yourself, you know others who suffer from the irritating symptoms of dry eye syndrome. However, the cause of dry eye varies widely. It can be due to aging, environment, side effects of medication (such as antihistamines), or the symptoms of a different disease altogether.

If you experience bothersome dry eye symptoms, our eye experts are knowledgeable about effective ways to relieve the discomfort of this condition. At True Eye Experts, we personalize your dry eye treatment to address your problem. We have years of experience serving Tampa, Trinity, and New Port Richey patients to provide comfortable healthy vision.

The first line of defense against dry eye is typically eye drops. Various types are on the market, including many over-the-counter eye drops and prescription eye drops that your eye doctor may recommend. So what’s the difference between OTC and prescription eye drops, and which are better for your dry eye symptoms?

Artificial Tears – OTC Eye Drops

OTC eye drops are the most common treatment, and there are many brands that provide temporary symptomatic relief are available. 

Most over-the-counter brands contain substances that help your eyes maintain moisture. However, the ingredients of artificial tears differ, and some drops contain preservatives while others do not. Many people find that the preservatives can cause stinging and further irritation, so they need to use a preservative-free version.

When choosing non-prescription eye drops, our Tampa and New Port Richey eye doctors warn patients to avoid eye drops that are only intended to remove redness from the eye, such as Visine and other similar products. Generally, these drops are not designed to treat dry eye and can cause additional problems. Also, if you have glaucoma or another ocular disease, it is critical to check with your eye doctor before using any OTC eye drops.

Prescription Eye Drops to Treat Dry Eye

If you are using artificial tears daily or very frequently, you may have a case of dry eye that could benefit from prescription medication. Prescription eye drops help to treat the underlying cause of dry eye syndrome and relieve uncomfortable symptoms.

What Prescription Eye Drops Are Available?

There are many prescription eye drops for dry eyes you can try to help alleviate symptoms. Since there are a variety of reasons dry eyes occur, different prescriptions tackle different causes.

The three most common prescription eye drops for dry eyes are Restasis, Xiidra, and Cequa, all of which are FDA-approved.

Your eye doctor can guide you on the best prescription for your eye condition.

Restasis Eye Drops

Restasis is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for dry eye. It works by reducing inflammation and helping to increase tear production. This type of cyclosporine eye drop is recommended for long-term use and is associated with some side effects,the most common being temporary burning or stinging. Other side effects can include redness, discharge, watery eyes, eye pain, foreign body sensation, itching, and blurred vision.

Xiidra Eye Drops

Xiidra is another dry eye treatment that helps treat dry eye symptoms. It can heal your eyes from the damage of dry eye syndrome and protect them from developing painful symptoms. The more common side effects of Xiidra can include blurry vision, headache, eye irritation, itchy eyes, dysgeusia (metallic taste in mouth), redness of the eyes, sinusitis, and watery eyes.

Cequa Eye Drops

Cequa drops are similar to Restasis in that they are another type of cyclosporine eye drop. Thus, they also work to decrease inflammation and increase natural tear production.

The difference between the two is that Cequa uses nano micellar technology, which allows the drops to penetrate the cornea deeper than Restasis eye drops.

You may experience some side effects with Cequa eye drops, such as eye irritation, redness, and inflammation. Some users also report having headaches.

Dry Eye? Ask Your Eye Doctor for Help

An expert eye exam and professional guidance are your first steps to determining which eye drop is best for your dry eye. Your eye doctor will conduct a thorough exam, review your symptoms and advise on what options will relieve your symptoms. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Before you begin using eye drops, you may still have some questions. Here are the two most pressing questions new eye drop users typically have and their answers.

Is It Ok to Use Dry Eye Drops Every Day?

The answer to this is: it depends.

Dry eye disease is a chronic condition so it may be necessary to use lubricating eye drops often, if not daily. That being said, different OTC eye drops may contain certain ingredients or preservatives that can cause irritation, especially with prolonged use, so it’s important to be mindful of which type of eye drop you use.

OTC lubricating eye drops offer short-term relief and can be used while your eye doctor determines the cause of your dry eye disease and whether prescription eye drops are necessary. 

If your ophthalmologist or optometrist prescribes eye drops for dry eyes and tells you to use them daily, it’s fine to do so.

Many prescription drops for dry eyes are made for daily use. Your eye doctor may direct you to use them once in the morning and at night. Follow your doctor’s instructions for the best result.

Will My Eyes Adjust After Using Dry Eye Drops?

If your optometrist prescribes eye drops to help treat your dry eye, you might wonder how quickly you can expect relief. It may take several weeks to feel a considerable difference from your eye drops, depending on the cause of your dry eye and the prescription drops you’re using. Patients with severe dry eye may have to use prescription eye drops for a few months to notice a difference.

If your eyes aren’t adjusting, you may need to change your prescription. Consult with your eye doctor to determine how best to proceed.

If you’re ready to determine the cause of your dry eye, schedule an appointment with True Eye Experts today. Our team of eye health professionals will guide you through the exam and treatment process to best help you alleviate your dry eye symptoms.


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