Artificial tears are eyedrops used to lubricate dry eyes and help maintain moisture on the outer surface of your eyes. Artificial tears may be used to treat dry eyes that result from aging, certain medications, a medical condition, eye surgery or environmental factors, such as smoky or windy conditions.
Artificial tears are available without a prescription. No single brand of artificial tears works best for every form of dry eyes.
Besides lubricating your eyes, some artificial tears contain electrolytes. These additives may promote healing of the surface of the eyes. Artificial tears may also contain thickening agents, which keep the solution on the surface of your eyes longer.
There are two categories of artificial tears:
- Eyedrops with preservatives. These artificial tears often come in multidose bottles and contain chemicals (preservatives) that discourage growth of bacteria once the bottle has been opened. The preservatives may irritate your eyes, especially if you have moderate or severe dry eyes.
- Preservative-free eyedrops. These artificial tears have fewer additives and are generally recommended if you apply artificial tears more than four times a day, or if you have moderate or severe dry eyes. Preservative-free products may come in single-dose vials.
In addition to over-the-counter artificial tears, you may also get relief from gels, gel inserts and ointments. Artificial tear ointments may offer longer lasting relief but may cause blurred vision and, as such, may work best just before bedtime.
If artificial tears don't relieve your dry eyes, make an appointment with an eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist). He or she may be able to offer another treatment.