Why Your “Redness Relief” Eye Drops Aren’t Helping (and might actually be hurting)

Why Your “Redness Relief” Eye Drops Aren’t Helping (and might actually be hurting)

Once upon a time, you probably went about most of your day, most days, not giving your eyes much thought. Like any vital organ—your heart, your lungs, your skin—your eyes just did their job without complaint.

But then… dryness.

Redness. Itchiness. Occasional blurriness. Irritation—like something’s in your eye all the time.

Suddenly, all you can think about is the fact that you have eyes. And they are angry. So you’ve been reaching for products that promise fast relief. Who wouldn’t? Dry eye is absolutely miserable!

But if you’re like most people, you now have a drugstore-sized collection of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops. You’ve tried every “all-in-one,” “fast-acting,” “total comfort” drop out there—and nothing’s helping.

So what gives? Why are you getting only temporary relief, at best?

OTC eye drops simply can’t offer a complete solution.

1. OTC eye drops simply can’t offer a complete solution.

What are tears, anyway? Tears are a viscoelastic structure. (Viscous fluids don’t flow easily and elastic fluids expand in all directions.) They’re made of three layers, and if the quality or quantity of any of the layers is disrupted, your tear film will be unstable—which is what leads to dry eye symptoms. :

  • Mucus

    which ensures your tears “stick” to your cornea—the dome-like structure at the front of your eyeball.
  • Water

    solution, which keeps the surface of the eye healthy and working correctly.
  • Oil

    which prevents tears from evaporating too quickly and ensures they’re evenly distributed across your eye’s surface.

In general, redness relief drops try to counter dry eye symptoms by increasing the amount of either oil or water. Why not both? Because, as you might recall from first-grade science class, oil and water don’t mix.

It’s simply not possible to have an “all-in-one” solution—so the best you can do is try drop after drop after drop until you find something that sorta-kinda works. It’s so frustrating!

But what about “artificial tears”? Many artificial tears are better at offering lubrication than traditional eye drops. However, with excessive use, they can work too well—washing away your natural tears and/or the oil that prevents tears from evaporating. The result? More dry eye symptoms.

Before you put anything in your eyes, it’s best to consult with a qualified ophthalmologist.

2. OTC eye drops work against your body’s natural response to dry eye.

Let’s have a quick (promise!) physiology lesson.

At the first sign of irritation, your eyes complain to your brain—and your brain responds by expanding the tiny blood vessels in your eyes to allow more blood flow and promote natural healing. This process, called vasodilation, makes those blood vessels more visible, which is why dry eyes appear red.

Here’s the problem: The active ingredient in “redness relief” drops is a vasoconstrictor, which means it instructs those blood vessels to clamp down again—preventing the very thing your eyes need to feel and look better. But that’s not all: With extended use, the blood vessels tend to dilate more when the vasoconstrictor wears off. And so you reach for your drops again. And again. And again.

This is called rebound hyperemia, and it sets up your poor eyes for nothing but misery.

Contact-wearers beware...

The combination of contacts and redness-relief drops is particularly troublesome for a couple of reasons:

  • Contacts hold drops on the surface of your eye longer, which means the problematic vasoconstrictor gets to work overtime.
  • On their own, contacts reduce the amount of oxygen reaching your cornea. When you add eye drops, you further decrease the oxygen supply, increasing the risk of corneal infections and ulcers.

3. OTC eye drops can mask the real problem

At best, redness relief drops only treat the symptoms of dry eye without treating the underlying cause. And because we’re talking about your vision, it’s critical to understand what’s really behind it all.

Dry eye has multiple causes. Some are specific to your eyes, such as wearing contacts or recent LASIK surgery. Others are related to your overall health, such as hormonal changes associated with menopause or certain thyroid conditions. Environmental conditions (hello, Santa Ana winds!) and work requirements (spend much time on a computer?) can also contribute to dry eye.

Should you just wait and see?

In the vast majority of cases, dry eye will not resolve on its own. In fact, the condition gradually worsens over time—especially with excessive use of OTC eye drops. And in many cases, dry eye causes irreversible damage. That’s why early detection and intervention are so critical.

With the use of advanced diagnostic tools to identify the root cause and inform a clear path forward, your eyes can be kept healthy for the long term.

Say goodbye to dry eye

We know you want to look, feel, and see your best. That’s really tough to do when your eyes are red, irritated, and itchy. Life’s too short to put up with dry eye, and getting relief is easier than you think.

  • Schedule your free consultation. Call or text 310.275.5533, or take advantage of Breeze, our convenient, online scheduling tool. With our powerful TearLab diagnostic technology, we’ll demystify the "why" behind your dry eye symptoms.
  • Get unparalleled care. We’ll answer all your questions and offer thoughtful solutions that take into consideration your visual demands, lifestyle, overall health, and budget. (Many dry eye treatments are covered by insurance!)
  • Protect your vision, for life. We’re passionate about caring for you and your eyes as your vision changes throughout life, so every action we take is measured by how it will impact your future.

Even if you feel like you’ve tried everything, we can help.