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Artificial tears and lubricants

The term 'artificial tears' is commonly used to describe drops, solutions and liquid gels applied directly into the eye. The term is not strictly correct, however, as artificial tears do not accurately mimic the composition of real tears - they mainly act as lubricants. The term 'ocular lubricants' generally refers to more viscous products such as ointments.

Mild or moderate dry eye symptoms

  • Artificial tears alone are usually sufficient to provide relief
  • Hypromellose is a widely used product, and can be administered frequently
  • Products containing carbomers or polyvinyl alcohol are longer-acting
  • Sodium chloride 0.9% is short acting and suitable as 'comfort drops'
  • Sodium Hyaluronate is becoming more widely used because of its water-retaining properties and low resistance to blinking

Some eye drops contain preservatives and can cause irritation. If someone is sensitive to preservatives or uses soft contact lenses, consider switching to one that is preservative-free. Carmellose sodium, hydroxyethylcellulose, carbomer, polyvinyl alcohol, hydroxypropyl guar, sodium hyaluronate, hypromellose and povidone are all available without preservatives.

Severe dry eye symptoms

  • Preservative-free artificial tears are suitable, but consider adding an ocular lubricant ointment to use at night
  • Eye ointments - such as paraffins - physically lubricate and protect the eye surface from epithelial erosion and are particularly useful when the eye is closed during sleep
  • As eye ointments containing paraffin may be uncomfortable and blur vision, they should only be used at night and never with contact lenses
  • Artificial tears containing bicarbonate have been shown to promote healing in severe dry eyes

Further information

More detailed information about the pharmacotherapies mentioned above, together with prescribing information, can be obtained from MIMS