Dry eye syndrome is a condition that occurs when your natural tears are not able to provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. There are many situations that may cause dry eye: poor production or poor quality of tears, exposure to hot and dry weather (e.g. low humidity, heating systems, air conditioning), decrease/lack of blinking (e.g. working on a computer, reading), incomplete closure of the eyelids (e.g. facial palsy), some rheumatological diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Sjögren’s syndrome…). Other than the usual symptoms of dryness (discomfort, red eye, foreign body sensation, grittiness, “sticky eyes”, etc.), if left untreated severe dry eye can cause serious effects on vision. To avoid this, it is necessary to maintain a correct visual hygiene and use artificial tears.
What are artificial tears?
Artificial tears are eye drops that reinforce the natural tears in your eyes, preventing them from drying out. We could say that they are to our eyes what moisturizing cream is to our skin, that is, we can use them even if we do not feel any discomfort, to prevent dryness.
Which ones should I use?
In general, tear drops without preservatives are preferable, since we can administer them as many times as needed. There are numerous types in the market that are easily available at any pharmacy or over the counter, but those that contain sodium hyaluronate tend to work very well. You should ask your doctor for advise on which are the most adequate to control your symptoms.
When should I use them?
It is recommended that we all have artificial tears at home and that we apply them when we use our near vision, especially with the mobile phone, the computer, the tablet or reading a book. In these situations, we blink less, keeping the eyes open for a longer time and the eyes dry off. Thus, it is recommended to use artificial tears regularly, even before we feel any symptoms, because once the discomfort starts it takes longer for the eyedrops to revert it.
If the eye drops do not have preservatives, as we recommend, you can apply them as frequently as you want.
For example, if you are going to spend a long time in front of the computer, you can put a drop every hour or hour and a half, and increase the frequency as required, even if you want to do it every 5 minutes. However, if the eye drops contain preservatives – although there are fewer and fewer on the market – it is not advisable to use them more than 3 or 4 times a day. You should always follow your ophthalmologist’s recommendations.
Can I use artificial tears with my contact lenses?
Generally speaking, yes, as long as the eye drops are preservative-free. In this case, there are no contraindications. Of course, you must take special care when cleaning the contact lenses to avoid an infection.
Debunking false myths
Many patients have the false conviction that the eye will stop producing its natural tears when administering these eye drops, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just as
the use of moisturizer does not modify the characteristics of our skin, the same happens with artificial tears. Quite the contrary, since artificial tears are the best prevention of problems and complications derived from dry eye.
Anterior Segment, Cornea and Refractive surgery specialist
Consultant in Ophthalmology