All About Dry Eye Blog

The Best Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Sceptical customerGoing to the eye section of the pharmacy can be a daunting task. With dozens of different drops, brands and ointments to choose from, how can you confidently select the best relief for your dry eyes?

Don’t let the wide variety of dry eye drops overwhelm you. Before heading to the pharmacy, read this article to save yourself time; and from a potential meltdown in aisle seven.

OTC lubricating drops: For less severe cases of dry eye disease, over the counter drops are available. OTC drops are often much cheaper and more convenient than Rx drops. However,  remember not to confuse lubricating drops for ‘get the red out’ formulas. Such drops are ineffective at replenishing the ocular surface. In fact, drops like Visine and other ‘get the red out’ products can make dry eye symptoms worse because they constrict blood vessels in the eye. Not only is it important to make sure the drops you choose are lubricating, it’s imperative to avoid drops with harsh preservatives. One of the most common preservatives found in OTC drops is called benzalkonium chloride (BAK). In low concentrations, BAK inhibits bacteria from multiplying. Nevertheless, BAK can be quite harmful to sensitive ocular tissues. As a rule of thumb, always check the label of your drops to be sure they are not preserved with BAK.

Prescription artificial tears: Prescription strength artificial tears like Restasis or Systane are typically recommended for those with chronic dry eye disease. Only available via prescription,  Rx artificial tears have the ability to help patients increase their eyes’ ability to produce tears. Tip: Since there are so many different prescription drops, try asking your doctor for samples of each of them before purchasing. Costs can add up quickly, but remember, the most effective drop is whichever one works best for you.

Antihistamine Eye Drops: Since histamine is one of the substances released during an allergic reaction, antihistamines inhibit the effects of the released histamine. Note: deciphering the underlying cause of your dry eyes is absolutely imperative when determining appropriate treatment. For example, many people confuse seasonal allergies for dry eye disease. If an allergy to dust, pet hair or dander is what’s causing itchy eyes and excessive tearing, decongestant or antihistamine eye drops can provide relief, while artificial tears may not be helpful. Tip: Use this chart to help you decide whether your sore eyes are due to dry eye disease or allergies.

Ointments: Generally reserved for more severe conditions, ointments are best used for overnight dry eye relief. It’s best to avoid using ointments during the day because they can be thicker than regular drops. Their thick consistency can cause blurry vision for some. (Ointments help reduce tear evaporation by heavily coating the cornea)

Once you’ve successfully determined the best eye drops for your condition, it’s important to know how to use them effectively! (Yes, seriously- you could be doing it wrong!) Here’s how to correctly apply eye drops:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  2. Shake the eye drops container gently
  3. Tilt your head back slightly
  4. Gently pull out the lower eyelid near your nose to form a well or pocket.
  5. Open both eyes and look towards the ceiling. Hold the dropper far enough away so that it never makes contact with your eye or eyelids.
  6. Carefully squeeze one drop into the pocket.
  7. Shut your eyes for a few minutes (without squeezing them shut) to allow the drop to distribute over your ocular surface.
  8. With your eyes still closed, you can lightly press the inner part of your eye (tear duct) for a few seconds. This helps keep the medication in contact with your eye longer.
  9. Place the cap tightly on the dropper bottle. Do not clean or rinse the dropper tip.
  10. You can follow the same steps for applying eye ointments.

Other helpful tips:

  • Wait at least 5 minutes between administering drops
  • Check the bottles’ expiry date. Always throw it away if it’s outdated.
  • Be sure to remove contacts before applying drops- unless advised otherwise.
  • Never leave eye drops in direct sunlight.
  • For an added refreshing effect, place drops in the fridge after use.

Does it feel like you’ve tried nearly every drop on the market, yet symptoms persist? Be sure to visit a doctor for another treatment method and to rule out other potential diseases or infections.

What drops work best for you? Share your experiences and thoughts on eye gels, ointments and drops with us below!


  1. Jen Gottschalk says:

    I have been using theratears preservative free drops, and also just started using Freshkote

  2. I use the Systane drops in the day and the gel at night and it has helped tremendously and I can buy it over the counter with no prescription.

  3. p.j. henderson says:

    Advice from an opthamologist: Press a clean, wet, very warm facecloth gently against your eyelids for 5-10 minutes. Repeat using cold water. Do this 2 – 3 times a day until you get relief. May take 2 weeks. You may find you need to do this occasionally.

    • Thanks for your reply! Very helpful. I find some dry eye sufferers simply do not do warm/cold compresses enough– bottom line! We have to be very diligent with dry eye treatment!

  4. I find letting the hot water run on my eyelids in the shower really seems to help.

  5. i have had severe dry eyes for 30 years, re-stasis really did not help much so i use refresh tears classic preservative free about 6 times a day along with hot compresses and using sunglasses with foam air shields that you can get at several online sites (they will cost a bit but are worth it because they keep air from drying out your eyes. one thing i was told many, many years ago was never use vi-sine eye drops of any kind.

    • Hey John! Thanks for reading. LOVE Refresh tears! And great advice regarding the visine drops.. NEVER use a vasco constrictor to treat dry eyes. They will certainly make matters worse in the long run. How long were you on Restasis?

      • i used restasis from appx. 2006 through 2010 through the veterans medical system. i was one of the unfortunate ones that medication did not work well for me. i have very sensitive eyes now and half to wear dark sunglasses as mentioned above almost all the time. my eyes became so irritated that after years of chronic dry eyes i then became photo-phobic to any direct light. so i get a lot of comments from people wondering why i am wearing sunglasses at night.

        • Anna Saliba says:

          I can really relate to your comments. I use Restasis morning & night and in between preservative free lubricating gel ‘Hylo Gel’. Light in the form of sun, car lights etc.. are very irritating to my eyes to the point that I find it very hard to drive and even cross the road at times. My eyes feel like I’ve got grit in them and hurt as well. Sunglasses are a must for me.

  6. Hi
    Great forum. I was just diagnosed with dry eye and use Re stasis along with
    BLINK TEARS! MY life was and is now my only form of exercise. Everyone I had
    MY eyes checked yearly they said using visine daily was not a problem.
    I had workouts sometimes 3 per day! Is SYSTANE better thank blink?

    If chlorine did this I will be soooooo. Upset.

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