Eye drops aren't just for dry or itchy eyes – they can be used to help treat a wealth of eye complaints. Read on to find out what they can be used for – and, just as importantly, how to put them in.
What are eye drops made of?
Eye drops usually contain a saline solution, with other ingredients such as antihistamines or antibiotics added as necessary. Some can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy, while others have to be prescribed by your GP.
You might need eye drops for:
- Allergies – eye drops can help soothe allergic symptoms such as itching, watering, stinging, redness and burning. They may also contain antihistamines or decongestants to help ease the symptoms of your allergy
- Conjunctivitis – infection or irritation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that lines your eyelid and covers your eye. If the cause of your conjunctivitis is a bacterial infection, your GP can prescribe antibiotic drops, whereas if it's an allergic reaction, you may need anti-inflammatory drops
- Dry eye – sometimes (especially as people age) eyes can start to produce fewer tears, leaving them feeling scratchy, stinging and red. Over-the-counter drops can help to reduce this dryness and soothe the irritation
- Glaucoma – this condition is caused by damage to the optic nerve inside the eye. In the early stages, eye drops can help reduce the pressure inside your eye and reduce the damage to your optic nerve
Anaesthetic drops can also be used to numb the eye before certain medical procedures, or you may be given mydriatic drops during an eye test – these dilate your pupils and help the optician to examine your eyes more easily.
How to put in eye drops
Before you use the drops:
- Wash your hands thoroughly
- Check the expiry date, and also check how long it's safe to use the drops once the bottle's been opened and the recommended storage conditions
- Follow any storage instructions accordingly
- To avoid spreading germs and infection, never share your eye drops with anyone else
Follow this step-by-step guide to administer your eye drops correctly
- Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
- Unscrew the cap of the bottle.
- Tilt your head back and look up at the ceiling. You can do this either sitting or standing.
- Hold the bottle over your eye with the dropper tip facing downwards, placing it as close to your eye as possible without letting it actually touch the eye.
- With your other hand, pull down the lower eyelid to form a little pouch.
- While holding the bottle above your open eyelid, squeeze it so that one drop falls into the eye.
- Close your eye gently and tilt your face towards the floor for two to three minutes. To keep the drops from running out of your eye, do your best to avoid blinking, moving your eyelid or squeezing your eyelid tightly shut.
- While your eye is closed, press one finger on the inside corner of the eye. This prevents fluid from draining into your nasal passages and getting into your nose or throat.
- Use a tissue to wipe away any excess fluid from around your eyes.
- Repeat on the other eye.
If you have any concerns or queries about using eye drops, check with your GP or pharmacist.