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  • Writer's pictureTim White

Is it safe to use "Red Eye" drops?

When your eyes are red and irritated, it sounds perfectly logical to use a drop that advertises Red Eye relief on the box. These drops (the most popular brands being Visine and Clear Eyes) are known for temporary and quick relief of eye redness or discomfort caused by minor irritants. Most eye doctors (including myself) never recommend these drops. As a consumer, they sound perfect...they're OTC, the products have been around forever, they work quickly, and they're relatively cheap. So why don't we recommend them?

The reason is because of the active ingredients and how they work. Visine, Clear Eyes, and several other generic versions of these redness relief drops most commonly contain either the active ingredient Tetrahydrozoline or Naphazoline. Both of these drugs are in a category called sympathomimetics. These sympathomimetics reduce eye redness by a process called vasoconstriction. The chemicals simply shrink the blood vessels and make them smaller, thus reducing the redness. Blood vessels on the surface of the eye dilate (or get larger) in response to irritation. This increase in blood flow is our bodies response to help repair whatever irritation is affecting the surface of the eye. The vasoconstriction caused by these drops counteracts the body’s efforts to repair the problem. The effects of theses drops are short lived. After the drug wears off, your blood vessels will revert back to their original size. However, after prolonged use the blood vessels can permanently enlarge, causing your red eye to look even worse. This is called rebound hyperemia, or rebound effect. This starts a viscous cycle of using red eye drops to resolve the redness that the drops cause.

Finally, these drops are a means to reduce symptoms (redness), not a cure for the cause of that redness. There are several reasons for an eye to be red. It could be allergies, dryness, a bacterial or viral infection, or something else. These vasoconstrictors simply shrink the blood vessels to make the eyes look better. They do not solve the problem. If your eyes are red, call or message us. We'd love to help!

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