What are eye drops used for?

Eye drops are used to deliver almost any type of medication to the eye. They are the principal method getting medication into the eye to treat eye conditions. They can, for example, be used to prevent or treat the following conditions:

  • dry eye (lubricant drops)
  • allergic eye disease (antihistamine / mast cell stabilising drops)
  • infection (antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal or antiparasitic drops)
  • inflammation (steroid or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drops)
  • elevated eye pressure (antiglaucoma drops)
  • certain types of cancer of the ocular surface (antimetabolite drops).

Very occasionally, certain eye conditions need to be treated with systemic treatment (for your whole body) in the form of tablets or even injections. These medication routes are sometimes used to reduce severe eye inflammation or reduce very elevated eye pressure, for example.


What are dilating eye drops used for?

Dilating drops (called mydriatics) can blur the vision for a few hours. They are normally used to allow a more thorough examination of the back of the eye, and are routinely used for this. They can also be used after certain operations, or in inflammatory eye disease, to prevent the iris adhering to the eye’s natural lens. Stronger dilating drops are sometimes used in children to examine for glasses prescriptions (these can last around 24-36 hours) or to treat lazy eye (amblyopia), by ‘penalising’ the good eye to force the brain to start using the weaker eye. The following video, from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, contains more detailed information about dilating eye drops.



How should I use my eye drops?

  • Most drops are prescribed to be used regularly (eg. once a day, twice a day etc). Develop a routine so that you are using them at the same time of day. For example, you could keep the drops (unless they need to be kept in the fridge) on your bedside table, or near your toothbrush to remind you to use them at the correct time.
  • There are some apps for Android and iOS smartphones that can be set to remind you to instil your eye drops, for example here.
  • If you are instilling more than one drop at a time, leave around 5 minutes between different drops, as you can otherwise wash the first drop out too quickly with the second drop.
  • If you have missed a dose, it is generally a good idea to put a drop in as soon as you remember
  • For some drops, you can reduce the chance of absorption of the medication into your bloodstream (and thereby reduce the risk of generalised side effects) by applying gentle pressure at the inner corner of your eye, on the lower eyelid, for a few minutes immediately after instilling the drop. This is called punctal occlusion (closing the tear duct) and is usually only necessary if your ophthalmologist has suggested it, for example for beta blocker eye drops where there is a desire to reduce the risk of unwanted side effects.
  • Most people instil the drops standing up, possibly using a mirror, pulling the lower eye lid down to make a pouch, and then instilling the drop into the pouch. A similar technique is shown in the video linked below.
  • Others find it easier to lie down on the back, support the drop bottle on the bridge of the nose with the nozzle above the eye, then squeeze the bottle.
  • If you are not sure whether the drop has gone in, put another drop in straight away. You cannot usually overdose in this way, because even if you put two identical drops in back to back, any excess will simply spill over onto your cheek
  • Some burning, stinging or mild discomfort is common, especially with drops which you have stated for the first time. If you are getting a lot of discomfort or itching, you could be intolerant, sensitive or allergic to either the medication or the preservative in your drop. There are almost always alternative drops available, so please tell your ophthalmologist if this is happening.

The following video, from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, shows how you can instil your drops.


What should i do with my drops on the day of an appointment with the ophthalmologist?

  • Generally speaking, you should use your prescribed drops as you normally would – in other words, take your morning drops as normal prior to your appointment
  • It is always a good idea to bring all your eye drops (including ones from the fridge – a few hours of the bottle being out of the fridge will rarely do significant harm) to your eye appointment so that your ophthalmologist can confirm whether you are taking the correct treatment.