Are all artificial tears created equal?
This is a question that I imagine many people must ask themselves when they walk down the eyecare aisle at Wal-Mart, or Target, or Jewell-Osco, or Costco (I actually don’t know if Costco has an eyecare aisle, but if they do I like to picture 10-gallon drums of Opti-Free). I admit, until recently, I couldn’t recall the last time I had ventured down the eyecare aisle; as an eye doctor, I benefit from freebies at work. But now that I’ve taken the time to wander down that aisle flanked by multicolored boxes of artificial tears and contact lens solutions, I can understand why people feel a little overwhelmed. It’s a veritable Rainbow of Uncertainty.
It’s a similar experience to those times when the wife tells me to buy her some shampoo; all the bottles look the same to me, so I pick the cheapest one. Honey, I’m sorry you ended up looking like James Carville.
So when your eyes are feeling dry and you just want a little relief, how do you pick which artificial tears to use if they all look the same and promise the same things? Maybe you heard Ben Stein say on TV that Clear Eyes will help. Or maybe you have a co-worker who swears by Systane. Or perhaps you read an article online about a woman who poisoned her boyfriend with Visine. Stay away from Visine.
Luckily for you, you have me. I’ll admit, I don’t have a strong opinion on a lot of things, but boy-howdy do I have one when it comes to artificial tears. Stop laughing at me.
First and foremost, I’m a big proponent of looking at ingredients. Whether I’m buying artificial tears or artficial sweetner, I want to know what’s going in my body. With eyedrops, the active ingredient you’re mostly likely going to see is the lubricant itself, such as glycerin, polyethylene glycol, or carboxymethylcellulose. You may also see a preservative, such as polyquaternium or benzalkonium chloride, listed. Preservatives can be sort of a mixed bag; they’re good in that they keep bacteria from contaminating the bottle, but they may also be responsible for causing ocular toxicity if used too much, thus defeating the whole purpose of an artificial tear in the first place. For this reason, I generally prefer a preservative-free drop, such as Theratears, for those times when frequent dosing is necessary.
Exciting stuff, right?
Another thing to consider, after ingredients, is the specific application of different types of artificial tear. Some claim to be better for certain types of dry eye, some are better for night time, some give you X-ray vision. You don’t want to buy the wrong drop at the wrong time. That is, if you were to pick up some Genteal ocular ointment and put that stuff in while you’re at work, have fun looking at life like it’s a dream sequence for the next 15 minutes – you might as well smear vaseline on your face. So be careful about the indications on certain products; if there’s a moon and stars on the box, it’s probably not indicated for high noon.
“Okay almighty optometrist,” I can hear you saying to your monitor, “so which artificial tears do you recommend, specifically?”
Well, for your everyday run-of-the-mill mild dryness, I use a lot of Systane Ultra and Optive. Systane Gel and Blink Gel are both good if you like a thicker drop. For dosing more than four times a day, I use Theratears. If overnight lubrication is needed, an ointment like Genteal is great. I try to stay away from Clear Eyes and Visine if possible (and it’s usually possible).
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. “What’s the other half of the battle?” you ask? I…I’m not really sure. G.I. Joe only ever gave me 50% of the formula for winning the battle. Let’s say the other half involves artificial tears. Aaaaaaand we have closure.