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Conditions & Treatments

Artificial Tears and Lubricating Eye Drops for Dry Eye

Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops are designed to provide relief from dry eye symptoms by supplementing the natural tear film of the eye. Dry eye syndrome is a common condition characterized by insufficient moisture and lubrication on the surface of the eye. This can result from either decreased tear production or increased tear evaporation, leading to symptoms such as irritation, redness, a gritty sensation, and blurred vision.

What are artificial tears and lubricating eyedrops composed of?

Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops aim to mimic the composition of natural tears, which is a complex mixture of water, fatty oils, proteins, electrolytes, and mucins. The primary components of artificial tears include:

  • Lubricants: Improve moisture and reduce friction. Common lubricants include polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, and hyaluronic acid.
  • Electrolytes: Substances as sodium chloride and potassium chloride are included to maintain the osmotic balance with the natural tears. Dry eye conditions can alter the osmotic balance of the tear film, due to reduced tear production or increased evaporation. This can stress the ocular surface cells, leading to irritation, inflammation, and further tear film instability. Artificial tears aim to restore osmotic balance by providing additional moisture and electrolytes, thus relieving symptoms and protecting the ocular surface.
  • Viscosity agents: These agents increase the thickness of the eye drops, helping them to stay on the eye surface longer. Examples include carboxymethylcellulose and hydroxypropyl methylcellulose.
  • Preservatives: These prevent microbial growth in the eye drop solution. Examples include benzalkonium chloride, polyquad, and preservative-free formulas where each dose is contained in a single-use vial. 

What are the types of artificial tears?

  • Preservative-free artificial tears: Recommended for individuals with sensitive eyes or those who use eye drops frequently, as preservatives can irritate the eyes with prolonged use.
  • Artificial tears with preservatives: Suitable for individuals who do not require frequent application. However, it’s important to be cautious of the potential for preservative-related irritation.

How do these eye drops work?

  • Supplementing natural tear film: They provide a temporary surface layer on the eye to compensate for the lack of natural tears.
  • Moisturizing the ocular surface: This helps to alleviate the symptoms of dryness and irritation.
  • Reducing tear evaporation: Certain ingredients increase the stability of the tear film, reducing the rate of tear evaporation.
  • Protecting the ocular surface: They can help protect the eyes from environmental irritants and reduce discomfort.

Your Union Square Eye Care ophthalmologist or optometrist may recommend nonprescription artificial tears and lubricating eye drops to manage your dry eye symptoms. Their recommendations will include the frequency of use, the type of eye drops depending on how frequently you use eye drops.

Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops play a crucial role in managing dry eye symptoms by providing necessary lubrication and moisture to the ocular surface. Their use can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from this condition, though it’s important to choose the right type based on your individual needs and under the guidance of your Union Square Eye Care healthcare professional. Contact us to schedule a consultation for guidance on how to treat your dry eye syndrome at home. We have offices in Union Square and Harlem for your convenience.


  • https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye

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