Is it safe to use "Redness Relief" eye drops regularly?
The short answer is NO.
Here’s the slightly longer answer.
There are several eye “Redness Relief” products on the over-the-counter market, such as those made by Visine, Clear Eyes, and Bausch & Lomb - as well as generic versions sold by pharmacy chains.
Most commonly, the active ingredient in redness relief drops is either Tetrahydrozoline or Naphazoline. Both of these drugs are in a category called sympathomimetics.
Sympathomimetics, the active ingredient in redness relief drops, work though a process called vasoconstriction, an artificial clamping down of the superficial blood vessels on the eye surface. These blood vessels often dilate in response to an irritation. This increase in blood flow is trying to help repair whatever irritation is affecting the surface of the eye. Clamping down on those vessels by using a vasoconstrictor counteracts the body’s efforts to repair the problem.
The other downside to repetitively using redness relief drops is that after the vasoconstrictor wears off the vessels often dilate to an even larger degree than when the process started. This stimulates you to use the drops again.
All of these drops carry these same two warnings on their labels:
Do not overuse as it may produce increased redness of the eye.
Stop using and ask a doctor if you experience eye pain, changes in vision, continued redness or irritation of the eye condition worsens or persists for more than 72 hours.
Does anyone read those warnings? Almost never.
These drops are meant to be used for a VERY short duration - one or two days. That’s it!
They are not meant to be used indefinitely and they are certainly not meant to be used daily.
Take a good look at that first warning: MAY PRODUCE INCREASED REDNESS OF THE EYE.
If you are using redness relief drops repetitively you are likely making your eye redness WORSE, not better.
If you have been using redness relief drops daily you need to stop and replace them with an artificial tear or lubricating drop - something that DOES NOT say “gets the red out.”
After you make that switch your eyes are initially going to be red as your blood vessels take time to regain their normal vascular tone without the vasoconstrictor clamping down on them. The lubricating drop will actually help the repair the damage done by exposure to adverse conditions. This will decrease the inflammatory signals that make the vessels dilate. You will actually be doing something helpful to the surface of your eyes instead of just masking everything by artificially clamping down on your vessels and decreasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the front surface of your eye.
Using redness relief drops if you wear contacts is an even worse idea. If you put the drop in with your contact in, the contact will hold onto the drug and keep it on your eye surface longer, thus likely increasing the vasoconstriction.
Your cornea has no blood vessels in it and it depends on the blood vessels in the conjunctiva over the whites of the eye to bring in nutrients and oxygen. The other source of oxygen for the cornea is what it gets from diffusion from the atmosphere and that is also cut down by the presence of the contact lens.
The redness relief drop combined with the contact lens are now BOTH reducing the levels of oxygen getting to the cornea. Decreased oxygen to the cornea is one of the biggest risks for contact lens-related infections, including corneal ulcers.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning redness relief drops if used appropriately for a very short time to soothe the eyes if they have been temporarily exposed to elements that made them irritated. For a day or two redness relief drops are fine. But for long-term use or for use while wearing your contacts they are much more likely to cause problems than to provide any benefits.
Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D
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