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Can You Be Addicted To Eye Drops?

By Essilor News

When your eyes are dry, red, and irritated, you may reach for eye drops for instant relief. Used as a short-term solution to treat eye issues, eye drops are one of the most popular and effective over-the-counter (OTC) medications used today. However, prolonged or frequent use can actually worsen your eye problems.

As the effects of the eye drops subside or upon discontinuation of the drops, the original eye symptoms may return stronger than before. This is known as eye rebounding or rebound hyperemia, and it is one of the reasons people become addicted to eye drops.

Whitening Eye Drops

Many OTC decongestant, or whitening, eye drops contain vasoconstrictors like tetrahydrozoline and naphazoline. These eye drops work by constricting blood flow to the outer blood vessels of the sclera, or white part of the eye, and conjunctiva (clear tissue on top of the white part of the eye) causing the eyes to look less red. Each time you use these eye drops, the blood vessels constrict, decreasing the blood flow and preventing oxygen and nutrients to get to the sclera.

But once you discontinue prolonged use of the eye drops, eye rebounding can occur. Uninhibited by the medication in the eye drops, the blood vessels in the sclera may enlarge and become redder as they try to deliver valuable oxygen to the deprived eye structures. Many people are dependent on or addicted to whitening eye drops to keep their eyes looking white.

Allergy Eye Drops

Eye drops containing a combination of antihistamines and decongestants are often used to treat ocular allergy symptoms like watery eyes, redness, puffiness, and itching. The antihistamines work to inhibit histamine that causes itchy, watery eyes while the decongestants work to relieve eye redness and puffiness. Prolonged use of these eye drops can cause increased eye dryness, redness, and irritation -- the very symptoms that make the eyes dependent on the drops.

Lubricating Eye Drops

Artificial tears, a lubricating type of eye drop, is used to relieve eye dryness and irritation caused by insufficient tear production in people with dry eyes, glaucoma, and certain eye infections. Artificial tears contain water, salts, polymers, and other ingredients that mimic natural tears.

Some people significantly overuse artificial tears eye drops, causing them to wash away their natural tears. Prolonged use and/or overuse can cause a dependency on the drops to soothe and moisturize the eyes, as well as protect delicate eye layers.


Use OTC eye drops only as directed by the packaging or your doctor. Eye drops can often disguise many eye conditions, even serious ones. Speak with your eye doctor if your eye problems are worsening or ongoing for more than a week. You may have an underlying eye condition that requires medical attention.