Your body produces tears naturally to keep your eyes lubricated, since it’s one of the few parts of your body mucus membranes open to the outside world.
But sometimes natural tears aren’t enough. This is where eye drops can help.
To augment natural tears and help prevent dryness, itching, and redness, eye drops are the best solution. There’s a huge variety to choose from, but fortunately, we’ve ranked the ten best eye drops on the market in descending order.
1. GenTeal Tears Moderate
GenTeal Tears is a single-use vial eye drop that is an excellent choice for people who have sensitive eyes and who don’t respond to more basic lubricating and hydrating solutions. GenTeal Tears also comes in a “mild” and a “severe” formulation, but those come in larger bottles and include preservatives.
GenTeal Tears uses the less-common lubricants dextran 70 and hypromellose 2910 eye drops, so if your dry eyes haven’t responded to more simple formulations like glycerine or mineral oil, GenTeal Tears is worth a try. GenTeal Tears also has very large individual vials, at 0.9 mL each.
This is three times as big as some of its competitors, so people who need larger amounts of eye drop solution per application should also look into GenTeal Tears.
2. Ocusoft Retaine MGD
Ocusoft Retaine MGD is a specially formulated eye drop that’s preservative-free and comes in single use vials. It is designed specifically for excessive eye dryness and uses a proprietary fluid technology to assure that the solution is evenly distributed in your eye.
The liquid looks cloudy at first; it’s not until you’ve put it in your eye and blinked a few times that the particles are evenly distributed, forming a thin film that coats your eye for long-lasting relief.
These are a favorite among people whose eyes are sensitive to the preservatives in other eye drops and for people with very dry eyes.
3.TheraTears Dry Eye Therapy
TheraTears is a good option if your eyes are somewhat sensitive and haven’t responded to the usual lubricants. It uses sodium carboxymethylcellulose, which is a lubricant not found in too many other eye drops.
Additionally, it uses preservatives that are not likely to aggravate your eyes even when used frequently. These eye drops are especially beloved by people who have extremely dry eyes and who’ve been failed by other brands, but it’s good enough to warrant trying in its own right.
4. Blink Tears
Blink Tears is an eye drop that shines particularly well when it comes to lubricating your eyes. If your eyes feel dry and scratchy at the end of the day on occasion, Blink Tears is a good product to try.
The one ounce bottle is conveniently sized for travel, though the fact that the bottle is reusable necessitates the inclusion of a preservative. The sodium chlorite used to preserve Blink Tears is not likely to be a major irritant, but regular eye drop users with sensitive eyes may want to opt for a single-use product that comes in disposable vials.
5. Clear Eyes Pure Relief Multi-Symptom
For an all-purpose eye drop, this is the number one contender. Clear Eyes Pure Relief Multi-Symptom offers a well-balanced mix of ingredients that lubricate, hydrate, and reduce redness, plus it takes the wise step of including only preservatives that are not likely to aggravate the eye.
Users love the solution, but one sticking point is the bottle–it’s not designed very well and it’s difficult to squeeze drops out. Aside from that, it’s a great all-around eye drop solution.
6. Systane Balance
Systane Balance is focused on improving eye lubrication and preventing dryness by restoring the body’s natural lipid layer in teardrops.
This way, water isn’t just lost to evaporation again. Systane Balance is renowned for its ability to keep eyes hydrated and happy with only one or two applications per day.
Many people find Systane Balance to be ideal for keeping their eyes from drying out after they remove their contact lenses at night.
7. Oasis Tears Plus
Oasis Tears Plus is a glycerin based eye drop that comes in single use vials, which means it’s preservative-free. It’s a good choice for sensitive eyes that just need some basic, straightforward lubrication and hydration.
Some people find that the 0.3 mL vial size is not big enough for a full application, so if you notice that you tend to use more eye drop solution than average every time you apply eye drops, this might not be the product for you. There are other options out there that come in larger vial sizes
8. Bausch + Lomb Soothe XP
Bausch + Lomb use plain old mineral oil in this eye drop formulation to lubricate and rehydrate the eyes, but by choosing to do so, they are able to get longer-lasting relief and a far lower chance of a negative reaction from sensitive eyes.
Nearly 5% of the liquid in the solution is mineral oil, so these eye drops have quite the ability to protect the eye’s moisture level by restoring a lipid barrier.
On the flip side, a more simplistic formula like this means that the hydrating and lubricating power of these eye drops won’t last all day like some competitors with more advanced formulations.
9. Bausch + Lomb Lumefy
Lumefy is an attractive anti-redness eye drops because it includes a vasoconstrictor that does not have a “rebound effect” that can cause increased redness after you stop using them. It does, however, include benzalkonium chloride., but even so, it’s a solid option if you want a targeted eye drop for redness.
10. Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops
Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops are specifically designed for eye itching and redness that’s the result of allergies. It includes ketotifen, an antihistamine that works to reduce your body’s inflammatory reaction against allergens in your eye, which is the cause of allergy-related eye itching.
The formulation does include benzalkonium chloride as a preservative, so it may cause irritation in sensitive eyes if used continuously for a long period of time.
Notably, this eye drop does not offer any kind of lubricating or hydrating ingredients, so if you have itchy and dry eyes, you may want to try something else first.
Who should buy eye drops?
Eye drops are a great first-line treatment against dry eyes, itching, redness, and allergies that aggravate your eyes.
These symptoms can be extremely pernicious, as they interfere with just about every moment of your day.
Eye drops range from basic artificial tears that are basically just sterile solutions with the same constituents as real biological tears to more sophisticated formulations that include more advanced lubricating agents or antihistamines to fight allergies that can cause itching and dryness.
If you have occasionally dry, itching, or red eyes, an eye drop can make a huge difference for relief.
Even so, eye drops are not an excuse to not try to address an underlying problem that could be causing your symptoms. If you wear contact lenses that are not fitted correctly, for example, you’ll have frequent scratchiness or dryness in your eyes.
While these symptoms might be ameliorated by eye drops, you won’t get a permanent fix until you’ve addressed the underlying problem.
Thanks to their versatility, eye drops are commonly prescribed by opthamologist for redness, itching, and scratchiness, but many people need to try out several different eye drop brands until they find the right fit.
That’s likely because the specific chemistry of teardrop composition varies from person to person, as does the underlying cause for the symptoms.
How we ranked
To treat redness, itching, and scratchy eyes, there’s no one formulation that will work for everyone. Because of the need for diversity of options, we didn’t look for just one type of eye drop.
However, we did have some baseline criteria to exclude eye drops that contain ingredients or used manufacturing processes that are known to be suboptimal.
First off, we screened eye drops into two categories: preservative-free formulations, and those that included preservatives.
The use of preservatives is a somewhat polarizing issue within eye drop manufacturing. All eye drops are sterile when they are manufactured, but as soon as you open a bottle, they’re exposed to bacteria in the air.
Without preservatives, these bacteria could multiply and cause an eye infection if you used the eye drops again in the future.
Fundamentally, there are two strategies for dealing with the problem of bacterial growth: either use a preservative, or avoid the issue entirely by manufacturing your eye drops in single-use, disposable mini-bottles.
From a purity and safety perspective, it’s hard to argue with single-use eye drops: they’re superior across the board. But, some people like the convenience and reduced waste that comes along with using eye drops with preservatives that come in larger, multiple-use bottles.
For this reason, we still included eye drops with preservatives in our rankings, but they uniformly scored lower than single-use products.
Among the preservative-based eye drops, we also screened out products that included benzalkonium chloride, a preservative which is still fairly popular but that has objectively worse effects on your eyes than other formulations. Again, convenience loses out to performance when it comes to this ingredient. We did have to make an exception on this front for antihistamine and redness eye drops, though, because there aren’t any on the market that do not contain benzalkonium chloride right now.
If you want the best-performing eye drops on the market, you’ll want to choose one of the top few products in our rankings.
If you are willing to sacrifice some amount of efficacy for convenience, you can opt for a multi-use eye drop bottle, which you’ll find lower down in the rankings, but if you aren’t getting the performance that you’d like, use a single-use eye drop product instead.
Eye drops are used primarily to combat dryness, scratchiness, redness, or itching in the eye. These can be from a variety of causes, so as a result, there are a number of different kinds of eye drops that have evolved to treat the different causes of eye irritation.
Choosing the right eye drop is, in part, a matter of figuring out what the cause of your issues are and choosing an eye drop that will address the root problem.
Eye drops are about more than just hydrating your eyes. The reason your eyes lose moisture and feel dry is because the lipid layer in your eye breaks down and allows water to evaporate from your eyes. When used to treat dry or irritated eyes, restoring this lipid layer is a major part of the solution.
A research paper published in 2005 in the journal Optometry and Vision Science describes how an eye drop can restore this lipid layer (1).
The authors describe an experiment in which two different eye drops were used on human eyes, which were then measured using a custom-designed tool to use light beams to measure the thickness of the lipid layer.
The experiment found that both eye drops, which used two different kinds of lubricants, increased the thickness of this lipid layer, though by different amounts. This indicates that some lubricating eye drop compounds may work better than others and moreover, this may explain why different people have different reactions to the same eye drop–their body may not be increasing its lipid layer thickness by the same amount as someone else’s. If a certain eye drop does not seem to reduce eye dryness, try one with a different active ingredient.
These active ingredients can range from simple compounds like mineral oil and glycerin to less common ones like dextran 70, which are also found in some eye vitamins. Check the label before you try a new eye drop.
It’s a different story when it comes to fighting redness and itching that results from allergies. In this case, an antihistamine ingredient is needed.
Eye drops with antihistamines can improve allergy symptoms. A scientific experiment described in an article in the British Journal of Ophthalmology in 2003 demonstrated the efficacy of antihistamines in reducing the symptoms of redness and itchiness that result from allergic reactions (2).
In it, over 500 subjects in Australia were given either a placebo eye drop or one of two experimental antihistamines to treat their seasonal allergy symptoms related to their eyes. After four weeks, the researchers evaluated the condition of the subjects.
They found that the ketotifen eye drops (the antihistamine now used in many anti-allergy eye drops) was the most effective treatment, and demonstrated its efficacy by showing that it blocked the reaction of inflammatory immune cells in the eye. The subjects also reported less accumulation of grit in their eyes and vastly lower levels of redness and itching.
Regardless of whether you are using an eye drop with lubricants for dry eye, antihistamines for allergies, or both, one major concern for all eye drop users is the need to prevent contamination of the eye drop solution. Since the eye is a direct portal to the interior of your body, it’s very susceptible to infections if bacteria contaminate your eye drop solution.
There are two ways to prevent bacterial contamination of eye drop solution. The first is by supplying eye drops in sealed, sterilized, single-use containers that are used once, then discarded. This is somewhat more expensive, but allows you to use eye drops that are as pure as possible.
The other option is to use a preservative, and this is what most manufacturers elect to do. There are a wide range of preservatives available, but several, like sodium chlorite, appear to be effective at preventing bacterial growth but not aggravating the eye. Some older preservatives aren’t as successful and have the tendency to cause side effects.
Finding the right eye drop can be even more difficult than finding the right deodorant or antiperspirant, especially if you have sensitive eyes.
The eyeball is an area of the body that is highly sensitive to outside contaminants, so many people react poorly to a great number of eye drops. One common ingredient to watch out for is benzalkonium chloride, which is a very effective preservative but appears to have both toxic and allergenic properties.
According to a 2010 article by researchers in Paris, France in the scientific journal Progress in Retinal and Eye Research, benzalkonium chloride is moderately allergenic in the short term, and toxic in the long term (3).
This means that it has the tendency to promote a reaction from the immune system to attack the chemical, and it also has a tendency to damage eye tissue over time.
The authors of the scientific paper recommend only using eye drops containing benzalkonium chloride for a short period of time, if at all.
Contamination is another potential source of side effects. This should not be a problem if you follow the directions on your eye drops–namely, only using single-use vials one time, and throwing away even a preservative-based eye drop if it is past its expiration date.
This can be a source of trouble for occasional users who may use eye drops only a couple times a week. They should opt for single-use vials to reduce the temptation to push their reusable vials past their appropriate shelf life.
The appropriate use of eye drops depends on what type of eye drop you chose. If you are using a preservative-free eye drop, you can put eye drops in as often as you need to based on your symptoms of itching, scratchiness, or redness.
However, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, if you are using a preservative-based eye drop, you should not put eye drops in more than four times per day (4).
This is because of the potential for adverse reactions that is associated with heavy use of eye drops that have preservatives in them.
It’s important to follow the appropriate technique for putting eye drops in, too: you should wash your hands before putting eye drops in, and be careful not to touch the tip of the eye dropper after you’ve opened the bottle.
For increased efficacy, you can press your fingers into the skin just outside the inner corner of your eyes for a minute or two to block the tear ducts.
This can prevent your eye drops from draining out of your eyes via your tear ducts before they’ve had the chance to lubricate your eyes and eyelids.
Finally, if you need to put more than a couple of eye drops in at a time, it’s best to wait a few minutes between applications: otherwise, the lubricants in the first drops will get washed away by the subsequent drops before they’ve had a chance to get absorbed.
Q: Is it OK to use eye drops daily?
A: Generally, yes, but it depends on the type of eye drop that you are using. Eye drops that are only artificial tears and that have no preservatives (because they come in sterile single-use miniature dropper bottles) can be used as often as you need, with no restrictions on how often or how much you use them.
If you use an eye drop that has a preservative in it, ophthalmology guidelines state that you should not use this kind of eye drop more than four times per day.
Special categories of eye drops, such as those that contain antibiotics that can only be taken with a prescription, have more specialized guidelines on appropriate use, so if you are using one of these specialized products, you’ll need to follow the particular instructions for that eye drop.
Q: Can you buy eye drops over the counter?
A: Many different types of eye drops are available over the counter, from basic artificial tears to more advanced formulations that include lubricants, antihistamines, or blood flow-restricting agents that are designed to counter specific problems like redness or allergies.
However, certain formulations are restricted to prescription use only. This second category of eye drops includes eye drops with antibiotics, which should only be used when necessary, in part because your eyes have a population of probiotic bacteria just like your digestive tract does.
Using an antibiotic-based eye drop casually could needlessly disrupt this balance of bacteria, which is part of why these antibiotic eye drops are restricted. Similar conditions apply to some steroid-based eye drops and other more potent prescription formulations.
Q: Are eye drops effective against allergies?
A: Eye drops can be effective against allergies, but you need to use the right kind of product. If your eyes are being aggravated by allergies, it’s unlikely that a plain artificial tear is going to help you.
Instead, try an eye drop that contains antihistamines: these compounds can cut back on your body’s overreaction to things like pollen that end up in your eyes.
This over-reaction is what causes redness, itching and crustiness to build up in your eyes during allergy season. An antihistamine eye drops, which you can find in our rankings, can be a useful way to fix allergies that affect your eyes.
Q: Can eye drops work for red eyes?
A: Yes, red eyes can often be effectively treated using eye drops. In some cases, simply adding artificial tears with no additional ingredients is enough to make a big difference.
In other cases, you’ll need an eye drop that provides lubricating agents or vasoconstricting agents. Lubricants can improve scratchiness as well as dryness, which both contribute to eye redness.
Vasoconstrictors, like the kind you find in products like Visine, work instead to directly reduce eye redness by slowing down blood flow to the eyes.
You may need to experiment a bit with different products to see what type of product fixes your red eyes, but many people do find relief with some type of eye drop.
Q: What are antihistamine eye drops?
A: Antihistamines are a specific type of medication that block the action of histamine, which cause inflammation and an immune system reaction.
Allergies are a classic overreaction of the immune system to a foreign compound, such as grass or plant pollen. After histamines are released, your immune system attacks, causing itching, redness, and irritation.
An eye drop that includes antihistamines stops this cellular cascade, and reverses itching and redness. They’re a good first-line treatment if you have allergies that aggravate your eyes.
Q: What ingredients are in eye drops?
A: Pretty much all eye drops are based on saline solution, which is sterile water with enough salt added to match the natural balance of electrolytes inside your body.
Beyond this simple formulation, many eye drops include lubricating agents that help your eyeball and eyelids move smoothly without scratching or irritation. You can also find eye drops that have antihistamines to fight allergies.
Eye drops that come in larger bottles need to include preservative agents, which prevents bacterial growth but also carries some risk of diminishing some of the benefits of eye drops.
The drawbacks of preservatives has given rise to eye drop formulations that are preservative-free and come in packs of sterile, sealed, single-use miniature droppers. These preservative-free eye drops are generally considered to be superior to preservative-containing eye drops.
Q: What happens if you drink eye drops?
A: Eye drops can be very toxic when consumed orally—while eye drops are quite safe to put in your eyes, certain brands contain ingredients which are downright poisonous.
Visine, for example, uses a compound called tetrahydrozoline to constrict blood flow to the eyes, which can help shut down redness and irritation.
However, according to research published in the journal Clinical Toxicology, tetrahydrozoline can cause toxic effects to the cardiovascular system when taken orally (5).
According to the same article, over 1600 people are treated for tetrahydrozoline poisoning every year.
Most of these are small children, who don’t know any better and who are also more vulnerable to the toxic effects of eye drop ingredients. Eye drops are safe for your eyes, but don’t belong anywhere else.
Q: How do you use eye drops?
A: The appropriate use of eye drops depends on whether you are using an eye drop solution that includes preservatives or not.
If you are using a single use eye drop product that does not have any preservatives in it, you can apply eye drops as often as you need to. If you use a product with preservatives, though, or any other ingredients that have a restricted number of applications, you should only use eye drops as often as directed.
For preservative-containing eye drops, this means a maximum of four times per day. When it comes to actually applying eye drops, the guidelines are the same no matter what kind of product you use.
First, wash your hands, then be careful not to touch the tip of the dropper. Tilt your head back, hold your eyelid open with one finger, and apply a drop or two to your eye. Then, switch sides and do the same for the other eye, if needed.
For best results, press your fingers against the inner corners of your eyes for a minute or two afterwards to let your ocular tissue absorb more of the eye drop solution: this maneuver temporarily blocks your tear ducts, which would otherwise let the eye drops drain out of your eye.
Q: Why do eye drops burn?
A: Burning can be a transient side effect of eye drops that contain ingredients beyond just artificial tears.
Ingredients like antihistamines or lubricants can cause a temporary stinging sensation, but if this burning is persistent, that’s a sure sign that you are using the wrong product.
Everyone’s teardrop chemistry is a little different, and products that work for some people may not work for others.
Eye drops are a great solution if you’ve got dried out, irritated, or red and itchy eyes. Choosing the right eye drop is a matter of figuring out whether you need lubrication and hydration or an antihistamine to solve your problems.
Then you need to determine whether single use vials or reusable vials with preservatives are a better investment. For occasional users, or people with highly sensitive eyes, single use vials are best.
For regular eye drop users, a preservative based vial is better, but you should strive to avoid one with benzalkonium chloride as a preservative if possible, especially if you’ll be using your eye drops on a regular basis or for a prolonged period of time.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 eye drop recommendation, click here.