I have dry eyes. What should I look for when selecting artificial tears?

Answer From Alaina L. Softing Hataye, O.D.

Artificial tears are eye drops used to lubricate dry eyes and help keep moisture on the outer surface of your eyes. Dry eyes can result from:

  • Aging.
  • Certain medications.
  • A medical condition.
  • Eye surgery.
  • Environmental factors, such as smoky or windy conditions.

Artificial tears are available without a prescription. No single brand works best for every form of dry eyes. You may need to try several different brands before you find one that works best for you.

Besides lubricating your eyes, some artificial tears also promote healing of the eyes. Others work to decrease tear evaporation. Artificial tears also may contain thickening agents. This helps keep the solution on the surface of your eyes longer.

There are two categories of artificial tears:

  • Eye drops with preservatives. This type often comes in multidose bottles and contains preservatives that discourage growth of bacteria once the bottle has been opened. The preservatives may irritate your eyes, especially if you have moderate or severe dry eyes.
  • Preservative-free eye drops. This type has fewer additives and is generally recommended if you apply artificial tears more than four times a day, or if you have moderate or severe dry eyes. Preservative-free eye drops may come in single-dose vials.

Artificial tears are also available as nonprescription gels and gel inserts. These may cause temporary blurred vision.

If you still don't have relief after trying different products, the next step might be to try one or more artificial tear ointments. These can temporarily cause blurred vision, so you might prefer to apply the ointment just before bedtime.

If you haven't experienced some relief with these efforts, make an appointment with an eye doctor, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist, who can suggest other treatments.


Alaina L. Softing Hataye, O.D.

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Feb. 18, 2023 See more Expert Answers