Preservative Versus Preservative-Free Eye Drops

Preservative Versus Preservative-Free Eye Drops | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Dry eye disease is one of the most common eye-related ailments and, according to one study conducted by researchers on Ontario, is thought to affect as many as 6 million Canadians. Symptoms of dry eye can range from mild to severe, including things like stinging or burning, redness, watery eyes, having the sensation of something being in your eye, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, eye fatigue, trouble wearing contact lenses, and trouble with nighttime driving.

In many cases, dry eye can be treated with some simple home remedies, such as applying a warm compress to the eyes and ensuring your eyelids are clean at all times (this will help release some of the oil in the glands of your eyelids, which will ultimately improve the quality of your tears.) Another easy at-home and on-the-go treatment for dry eye is drinking plenty of water. Water helps flush sat from the body, which keeps the eyes hydrated and reduces things like eye strain. It also has many other health benefits aside from just the eyes. If your dry eye is severe, then you’ve likely seen your optometrist or are planning on booking an appointment with them, which is always a good idea – especially when the eyes are acting up. Along with the aforementioned at-home remedies, an optometrist will also usually recommend patients use eye drops – commonly known as artificial tears.

Artificial tears are not only good for the treatment of dry eye disease, but they are also great for the prevention of it. However, the thing with using artificial tear eye drops is that because there are so many of them on the market today, finding one that is best suited for you is often a case of trial and error. Some may not work at all, some may feel too thick for your eyes, and it’s also not uncommon for certain eye drops to irritate the eyes further, while others may not – and there’s a logical explanation for that: The presence (or lack thereof) of preservatives.

When looking for drops to treat dry eye, you’ll probably notice that the packaging will sometimes indicate that they contain preservatives or are preservative-free. This is based on the ingredients that the drops are made with. When drops are made with preservatives, this helps them to last longer once they are opened. However, drops containing preservatives can sometimes worsen the symptoms of dry eye. This is because commonly uses preservatives, such as benzalkonium chloride, can cause a disruption to the tear film. They’re also typically not recommended for those who have to use their eye drops frequently, or in someone who has extra-sensitive eyes. Whereas drops that are preservative-free don’t actually contain the aforementioned preservative (or any other kinds of preservatives.) Preservative-free drops are much less irritating to the eyes and can be used on a much more frequent, as-needed basis. However, the one downside to drops that are preservative-free is that they won’t last as long.

The way preservative versus preservative-free drops are designed also differs. Drops that contain preservatives come in multi-dose packaging, such as a small bottle, while preservative-free drops typically come in single-dose, vial-like units, and should be discarded immediately after using. You are also not likely to use up all of the medication from a single-dose preservative-free vial, which might seem like a waste of both the eye drops itself and a waste of your money – but when it comes to the sensitivity of your eyes, preservative-free drops are the go-to recommendation.

It’s also important to note that when using dry eye drops – whether they contain preservatives or don’t – they won’t always necessarily work right away, as it can take several weeks to a month before you notice significant improvement of your symptoms. That being said, if you notice an abnormal increase in your symptoms since starting treatment, or if you develop any symptoms that weren’t present prior to using artificial tear drops, then you should always check with your doctor (such as your family physician, optometrist or ophthalmologist) to ensure nothing else is going on.