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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

Types of Eye Drops

Eye drops are the most prevalent form of ophthalmic medication to treat eye conditions. There are several types of eye drops, each addressing specific eye issues. Read on as we give you a quick overview of their main purposes and applications.


Main Types of Eye Drops


Ophthalmic drops encompass various pharmaceutical formulations to address eye conditions. These formulations have different therapeutic purposes and active ingredients.


Here are some of the most common types of eye drops and their characteristics:


Artificial Tears


  • Purpose: Lubricate and hydrate the eyes. Providing instant relief for dryness, eye discomfort, and grittiness sensations from wearing contact lenses.

  • Use: Dry eye syndrome, eye strain, contact lenses, and environmental irritants.

  • Ingredients: Lubricating agents like carboxymethylcellulose and hyaluronic acid. They are mimicking the composition of natural tears.

  • Prescription: No.


Lubricating Eye Ointments/Gels


  • Purpose: Thicker than traditional eye drops, lubricating ointments, and artificial gel tears provide long-lasting hydration for dry eyes.

  • Use: Severe dry eye, grittiness sensations, or nighttime dryness.

  • Ingredients: Similar to artificial tears.

  • Prescription: No.



Antibiotic Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Treat bacterial eye infections and effectively kill the bacteria causing the problem.

  • Use: Bacterial conjunctivitis (pink eye), keratitis, corneal ulcers, and other bacterial conditions.

  • Ingredients: Antibiotics like tobramycin, ciprofloxacin, or erythromycin.

  • Prescription: Yes.


Antiviral Eye Ointments


  • Purpose: Treat viral eye infections.

  • Use: Herpes simplex virus (HSV) and other viral eye disorders.

  • Ingredients: Antiviral agents like acyclovir or ganciclovir.

  • Prescription: Yes.


Antifungal Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Treat fungal eye infections.

  • Use: Fungal infections of the cornea and other fungal eye disorders.

  • Ingredients: Antifungal agents like Econazole or Voriconazole.

  • Prescription: Yes


Non-Steroid Anti-Inflamatory Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Reduce inflammation and swelling in the eye.

  • Use: AntiInflammatory eye drops are usually prescribed before or after eye surgery or laser procedures or in cases of mild inflammation

  • Ingredients: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents like diclofenac or bromfenac

  • Prescription: Yes.


Steroid Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Reduce inflammation and swelling in the eye.

  • Use: Inflammatory eye conditions such as uveitis, iritis, or post-eye surgery.

  • Ingredients: Corticosteroids like prednisolone or dexamethasone.

  • Prescription: Yes.


Immunosuppressant Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Reducing inflammation in an alternative pathway to steroids.

  • Use: After eye surgery like corneal transplantation, severe dry eye disease, ocular inflammatory diseases

  • Ingredients: Cyclosporine

  • Prescription: Yes


Antihistamine Eye Drops

  • Purpose: Relieve itching, redness, and irritation caused by allergies.

  • Use: Allergic conjunctivitis or eye allergy.

  • Ingredients: Antihistamines like ketotifen or olopatadine.


  • Prescription: No.



types of eye drops

Vasoconstrictive Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Temporarily relieve redness and reduce eye blood vessel dilation.

  • Use: Temporary relief from eye redness due to minor irritation.

  • Ingredients: Vasoconstrictors like naphazoline, tetrahydrozoline, or brimonidine tartrate.

  • Prescription: Some decongestant eye drops are over-the-counter, while others require a prescription.

If you are getting this over the counter, please keep in mind that this type of eyedrop should NOT be used over a long period of time as it may lead to severe eye surface disease. Vasoconstrictive eye drops are not a substitute for artificial tears.

Combination Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Combine two or more active ingredients to address multiple eye issues.

  • Use: Conditions with a mix of symptoms, such as dry eye with inflammation.

  • Ingredients: Various combinations, like artificial tears with an anti-inflammatory component.

  • Prescription: Yes.


Glaucoma Medications


  • Prostaglandin Analogs, Beta-blockers, Alpha Agonists, Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors, RHO Inhibitors

  • Purpose: Lower intraocular pressure to manage glaucoma by increasing drainage or reducing fluid production.

  • Use: All types of glaucoma, ocular hypertension.

  • Ingredients: Various classes of medications that reduce intraocular pressure, prostaglandin analogs, beta-blockers, carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, and alpha agonists.

  • Prescription: Yes.


Mydriatic Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Mydriatic eye drops dilate the pupil to assist in eye exams or surgery.

  • Use: Eye exams, and certain surgical procedures.

  • Ingredients: Pupil-dilating agents like tropicamide or phenylephrine.

  • Prescription: Only for doctor usage.


Cycloplegic Drops


  • Purpose: Temporarily paralyze the eye's focusing muscles (cycloplegics) for diagnostic or surgical procedures.

  • Use: Eye exams, and certain surgical procedures.

  • Ingredients: Tropicamide, cyclopentolate, or homatropine.

  • Prescription: Only for doctor usage.


Miotic Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Constrict the pupil in cases of intraocular tension rise (angle closure) or ophthalmic surgery.

  • Use: Eye exams, and certain surgical procedures.

  • Ingredients: Pupil-constricting agents like pilocarpine.

  • Prescription: Yes


Anesthetic Eye Drops


  • Purpose: Numb the eye surface before a special examination (measurement of the intraocular pressure or gonioscopy) or before a surgical procedure.

  • Use: Eye exams, and eye surgical procedures.

  • Ingredients: Oxybuprocaine

  • Prescription: Only for doctor usage.



Preservative vs Preservative-Free Eyedrops


Manufacturers may add preservatives to eye drops to prolong their shelf life and prevent microbial contamination. Beyond the presence or absence of preservatives, there are a few things that set these types of eye drops apart in terms of cost, side effects, frequency of use, and individual sensitivity.


Preservative Eye Drops


  • Preservative eye drops typically have a longer shelf life. That's because the preservatives prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi in the solution.

  • These eye drops often come in multi-dose bottles, allowing for constant use over a long period.

  • They are more cost-effective than their preservative-free counterparts.

  • If you rarely use eye drops, preservative eye drops may be suitable for you.


Preservative-Free Eye Drops


  • Some individuals may be sensitive to preservatives in eye drops. Thus, preservative-free eye drops minimize the risk of irritation or sensitivity.

  • Long-term use of preservative eye drops may lead to dry eye or allergic reactions. Preservative-free options minimize the risk of side effects and allergies.

  • Preservative-free solutions are recommended for individuals with pre-existing eye conditions or those who use eye drops frequently, to avoid irritation.

  • Preservative-free eye drops often come in single-dose containers to prevent contamination after opening. Users discard each vial or ampule after use.

  • For long-term or frequent use of ocular drops, preservative-free options are better.

  • Preservative-free eye drops can be more expensive than preserved ones.


Ocular Drops Conclusion


Use eye drops as directed by your eye doctor. Follow the guidelines for dosage and duration, and be cautious about potential side effects and interactions. If you experience severe or persistent eye problems, consult an ophthalmologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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