Whenever the occasional eye itch or redness occurs, the first thing everyone wants to reach for is a bottle of eye drops to help relieve this common condition. Although it may seem like a feasible solution and may even provide instant relief, it can come as a surprise to know that these eyedrops might be causing you more harm than good.
In honor of Healthy Vision Month, we are going to share why it’s best to only use eyedrops in moderation and what alternatives you should use instead.
What’s in Eye Drops?
Eye drops are used to help treat several conditions including allergies, glaucoma, and dry eyes. Prescription eye drops can be used to treat more serious conditions like glaucoma and severe allergies, and they typically have concise instructions on how many eyedrops can be safely used in one day.
Similar warnings are also included on the packaging of over-the-counter eye drops. Regardless, many people ignore these instructions and use eye drops whenever they feel the slightest bit of discomfort.
Naphazoline is one of the active ingredients that is found in many eye drop solutions and can treat redness caused by smog, pollen, and other irritants. But with overuse, it can cause a variety of side effects, including headaches, dizziness, increased perspiration, nausea, fatigue, lower body temperature, and slow heartbeat. The potential side effects of the overuse of prescription eye drops include vomiting, back pain, and trouble breathing.
While these eye drops may offer instant relief and temporarily reduce redness, many are surprised to learn that overuse of eye drops can actually increase redness and can potentially bring about the conditions they are trying to correct.
What Happens to Your Eyes When You Use Eye Drops?
The chemicals used in eye drops are known as vasoconstrictors, which means they constrict the blood cells in your eyes. The redness of your eyes is just a natural response, causing the blood vessels within your eyes to expand and increase the blood flow to that particular area. This can be a result of a number of things including infection, pollutants and just rubbing your eyes. When you put eye drops in your eyes, these chemicals constrict the vessels and the redness apparently disappears.
Problem solved, right? Wrong. Blood vessels have the ability to constrict and dilate themselves, but when you use chemicals to constrict them, like the chemicals in your eyedrops, it will only temporarily work until the chemicals wear off and your blood vessels dilate again. This means the more blood in the blood vessels, the more redness in your eyes, which will cause the need for more eye drops.
This is known medically as “rebound hyperemia,” and if you continue to use eyedrops on a consistent basis, your eye will become addicted to the eye drops and the blood vessels in your eyes will lose the ability to effectively constrict themselves.
Alternatives for Eye Drops
If you’re experiencing any of these side effects, the best solution is to stop using eye drops completely. It may take a few days or a couple of weeks for your eyes to recover and get back to normal. Depending on your use, your eyes might stay red for a longer period of time.
If you wake up to red eyes in the morning, a natural remedy for this is to use cold compresses or chilled two spoons. The cold will help naturally constrict the blood vessels in your eyes and reduce the appearance of puffy eyes as an added bonus. If the redness in your eyes persists, it could be a result of a larger health problem and you should always consult your primary care physician.
How many eye drops is too much?
In general, most eye drop brands don’t want you to use the drops more than four times a day because of the preservatives present in them; if you exceed the recommended dosage you can actually “overload” your eyes with preservatives.
How do eye drops work?
Eye drops work by a process called vasoconstriction, which means they constrict the blood cells in your eyes. These blood vessels will dilate in response to the irritation and will increase blood flow to help repair whatever is affecting the surface of your eye.