When you experience discomfort in your eyes, one of the first things you turn to for relief are eye drops. These drops are usually used as a temporary solution to address different eye issues. Many people are reaching for over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops since they are readily available in most pharmacies.
Can you actually become dependent on these eye drops? What will happen to your eyes when you use them excessively? Read on to find out from a local optometrist.
Prescription VS Over-the-Counter Eye Drops
OTC eye drops are generally safe to use as long as they are not used for prolonged periods. Some of them have chemicals that constrict the blood vessels, removing redness on the white part of the eye. Moreover, eye specialists prescribe prescription eye drops for certain eye conditions. Some of the most common types of prescription eye drops include corticosteroids, antibiotics, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and drops used to treat glaucoma.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops if you have an eye infection. Corticosteroids are used to treat iritis or puffy eyelids, but you must be cautious when using them. Incorrect usage of these drops can lead to cataracts or even glaucoma. Only use them as directed by your eye specialist. For those with the herpes virus, antiviral eye drops are prescribed as the primary treatment.
Kinds of Over-the-Counter Eye Drops
Allergy Eye Drops
People with allergies often use eye drops that contain a combination of antihistamines and decongestants. These eye drops can treat eye ocular allergy symptoms, such as watery eyes, puffiness, redness, and itching. The antihistamines in the eye drops prevent histamine from causing allergy symptoms, and the decongestants relieve eye redness and puffiness. However, extended use of these eye drops can lead to eye dryness, irritation, and redness. These symptoms are what can make your eyes dependent on the eye drops.
Whitening Eye Drops
A lot of OTC decongestant or whitening eye drops come with vasoconstrictors like tetrahydrozoline and naphazoline. These drops restrict blood flow to the sclera’s outer blood vessels or the white part of the eye, as well as on the conjunctiva, or the clear tissue on top of the sclera. Their purpose is to reduce redness in your eye.
People tend to get addicted to these drops to maintain the whiteness of their eyes. Keep in mind that every time you use these eye drops, the blood vessels in your eyes constrict, which reduces blood flow and keeps oxygen and nutrients from reaching the sclera. When you discontinue the eye drops, their effects will start to wear-off, and cause your eyes to become redder and more irritated. As the blood vessels enlarge again, it will attempt to send oxygen to oxygen-deprived structures of the eyes. Experts call this condition eye rebounding or hyperemia.
If you’re experiencing prolonged eye irritation, stop using the eye drops, and make sure to contact your eye doctor immediately. Your recovery time may depend on how long you’ve been using the eye drops. What’s causing the redness and irritation must be determined and addressed. Many times, the eye condition is caused by dry eye syndrome. It can be treated with artificial tear drops, depending on the severity.
Lubricating Eye Drops
Artificial tears or lubricating eye drops relieve eye dryness and irritation caused by insufficient production of tears. Individuals with dry eyes, glaucoma, and certain eye infections use these eye drops. They contain water, polymers, salts, and other components found in natural tears. Your natural tears will wash away when you excessively use artificial tear eye drops. Overusing them can cause you to become dependent on the drops to moisturize and soothe your eyes.
Underlying Conditions Your Eye Drops Could Be Hiding
Rubbing or eyes too harshly or scratching them cause a blood vessel to break, resulting in red and itchy eyes. Surgery or prescription eye drops may be needed for more severe traumas.
Having an eyelash, dust, or other foreign objects in your eyes can irritate. To make sure that a foreign object is not what’s causing your eyes to become dry and itchy, have them checked by an eye specialist.
Also called conjunctivitis, pink eye is a bacterial or viral eye infection that causes burning, itching, and swelling in one or both eyes. In some cases, they require the use of prescription antibiotics.
Not giving your eyes enough time to rest as well as prolonged use of digital devices can cause eye strain. However, you may need glasses if the strain is normal.
Blepharitis is an eye condition where the eyes become inflamed and red due to bacterial or fungal infection, gland dysfunction or parasites, and dry eye. Eye drops are not enough to treat the causes of blepharitis.
You can experience dry, itchy eyes when you’re allergic to pets or specific environments. To determine what’s causing your allergies, you should visit an allergist. Another thing you can do is get rid of items in your home one at a time to find out what’s possibly triggering your allergies.
Can You Become Dependent on Eye Drops?
Various eye drops used to treat allergies, and red eyes come with topical decongestants. Too much use of these drops can result in rebound swelling and redness, which can lead to chronic eye redness. The longer that you use these eye drops, the redder your eyes will be. This is just one reason it’s essential to seek the opinion of an optometrist or ophthalmologist when it comes to treating eye conditions.
It may help to know that artificial tears without preservatives cannot make a person physically dependent on them. It is because these drops only contain moisturizing ingredients, which won’t harm your eyes. They do not have any kind of medication, meaning you can use them as often as you want. Still, psychological addiction is a possibility, but it’s not usually dangerous.
However, if your eye drops contain benzalkonium chloride, hypersensitivity reactions may occur. Eye doctors typically prescribe these eye drops to those with glaucoma. They may need to be used for extended periods and frequently, so it’s important to be medically managed during that time.
When to Contact Your Eye Doctor
You should have your eyes checked by a professional if you have dry eyes or irritation that has not gone away on its own. Do not attempt to use anything on your eyes without consulting your eye doctor because it may just make the problem worse. Also, eye drops are simply a short-term solution and may not permanently treat what you’re experiencing. When you undergo a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor can determine if an underlying eye condition is what’s causing your discomfort.
Moreover, it’s still a good idea to visit your eye doctor regularly, even if you are not feeling any changes or discomfort in your eyes. Keep in mind that routine eye exams can help with the early detection and treatment of many vision-threatening conditions. During the exam, your eyes will be checked for signs of serious eye problems, such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, and retinal detachment. By assessing the blood vessels in the eye, it can help detect major health problems as well, like diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, thyroid diseases, and cancer.