You may use eye drops for a number of different reasons, including eye allergies, eye redness, and dry eye. Any eye drop bottle that you open and use multiple times contains preservatives. Preservatives can help prevent the growth of bacteria in bottles containing drops.
The most commonly used preservative in eye drops is called Benzalkonium chloride, or BAK. Using BAK too often can irritate your eyes and may make dry eyes worse. Preservative Free Dry Eye Drops do not contain BAK. If you suffer from dry eye syndrome and you’re a constant user of eye drops, you may prefer a preservative-free option.
This article will discuss dry eye, preservative-free eye drops, and when it’s best to use preservative-free eye drops.
Dry Eyes and Eye Drops
Dry eye is when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or the tears they produce are of poor quality. Dry eye syndrome can have many causes, including:
- as a woman
- using contact lenses
- have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes (a chronic disease that affects how the body uses glucose or blood sugar) and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease that affects the joints)
- hormonal changes
- Live or work in a dry environment
- using certain medications that dry out the eyes
Different types of eye drops are used for dry eye to help relieve symptoms of dryness. When you have dry eye, artificial tears, also called lubricating eye drops, can be used several times a day. These types of drops provide the eye with some of the same natural elements as tears. Artificial tears are sold over the counter. Many artificial tears contain preservatives.
Popular prescription eye drops for dry eye do not contain preservatives, such as Cequa or Restasis (cyclosporine eye drops) and Xiidra (Lifitegrast). Prescription eye drops treat dry eye in different ways and are not considered artificial tears.
What are preservative-free eye drops?
Artificial tears for dry eyes with and without preservatives. Benzalkonium chloride is the most common preservative in eye drops. However, in some people, BAK can make dry eye worse. Other possible effects of BAK include:
- discomfort when instilling the drops
- Feels like there is something in the eye
- itchy eyelids
Some lubricating eye drops contain preservatives, while others do not. Eye drops that contain preservatives are usually sold in vials. Every time you want to use the product, you open the bottle, insert the eye drop, and close the bottle until you use it again. Preservatives help prevent bacterial growth.
Do they cost more?
As the term implies, preservative-free eye drops contain no preservatives to keep bacteria out. To help avoid bacterial growth, eye drop manufacturers often package preservative-free eye drops in single-use vials rather than using the same bottle multiple times.
Because of this, preservative-free eye drops are more expensive than those with preservatives. Some preservative-free drops are now made in multi-dose bottles so you can use them multiple times, but these are not as common as single-use vials.
Are there options with low preservatives?
Some lubricating eye drops are made with so-called soft preservatives, such as sodium chlorite, sodium perborate, and polyquaternium-1. Although these are less irritating to the eyes, many eye specialists still support the use of preservative-free eye drops, especially if you need them several times a day.
When to use preservative-free eye drops
You may want to consider preservative-free dry eye drops if any of the following apply to you:
- You have glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which is necessary for vision. (This is because you may be using other eye drops to treat glaucoma, which may contain BAK. Adding more drops with preservatives like BAK can further irritate your eyes. )
- You use artificial tears more than four times a day.
- You know you have moderate to severe dry eye.
- You have severe eye allergies, or you know you are allergic to BAK or other preservatives used in eye drops.
- You wear contact lenses.
- You spend a lot of time using electronic devices, which can dry out your eyes even more.
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Many eye drops contain preservatives. The most common preservative, BAK, can irritate the eyes in some people. If you regularly use lubricating eye drops for dry eye, you may need to switch to preservative-free eye drops. If you use electronic devices frequently or suffer from glaucoma, you may also consider switching to preservative-free drops.
The amount of lubricating eye drops available over the counter can be overwhelming. While they’re a slightly more expensive option, preservative-free eye drops can help you avoid the preservative BAK, which may further irritate your eyes. Your doctor may recommend them if you have advanced dry eye.
See if you can find coupons for paraben-free eye drops, or ask your eye doctor if they know of discounts on paraben-free eye drops. Most flexible savings accounts (FSAs) also pay for eye drops.
How to estimate and maximize your FSA
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do preservative-free eye drops last?
Follow any directions on the package for how long you can use paraben-free eye drops. Many of these are sold in vials designed to be used only once or within 24 hours of opening. If the drops are unopened, read the packaging to find out when the drops expire.
Can I reuse preservative-free eye drops?
Read the product packaging to find out. The preservative-free eye drops are available in packages for single use or within 24 hours. Prolonged use increases the chance of bacterial contamination.
Can I use preservative-free eye drops every day?
Yes, preservative-free eye drops are safe to use every day.
Are Preservative Free Eye Drops Harmful?
They are harmless. Follow any advice from your ophthalmologist about using preservative-free eye drops. If you have not been treated for dry eye, see your eye doctor if you use the drops more than four times a day.