Drops, Ointments and Gels

For most people who have dry eyes, the use of artificial tears is sufficient to alleviate their symptoms. Artificial tears are available in multi-dose bottles or single-use disposable vials.

All artificial tears in bottles have a preservative to prevent contamination. Some individuals will be sensitive to preservatives. If so, preserved, multi-dose artificial tears may cause more eye irritation than the dry eye condition itself.

To prevent this problem, some new artificial tear formulations have a unique preservative that disappears when the solution comes in contact with your eye. Examples of this type of artificial tear include Optive (Allergan) and Genteal (Novartis).

Eye drops that come in single-dose plastic vials are preservative-free formulations. They may be a bit more expensive than preserved artificial tears sold in multi-dose bottles, but preservative-free products are the best choice if you have sensitive eyes. Examples of preservative-free artificial tears include Refresh Plus (Allergan), Systane (Alcon) and TheraTears.

SEE ALSO: How to put in eye drops

If your eyes are very dry and frequent use of artificial tears is ineffective in relieving your discomfort, you may want to try a lubricating gel. Gels are thicker than artificial tears (but not as thick as an ointment). These products will stay on your eyes longer than artificial tears, providing longer periods of relief. However, gels will blur your vision for a few minutes when you apply them, so don't use them when driving. Examples of lubricating gels include Celluvisc (Allergan) and Genteal Gel (Novartis).

At nighttime, a lubricating ointment may provide more relief than artificial tears or gels, especially if you have severe dry eyes or you have a tendency to sleep with your eyes partially open. Ointments have the consistency of Vaseline, and will stay on your eyes longer than artificial tears or gels. But ointments will blur your vision for several minutes or longer when you apply them, so use these only at bedtime (or when good vision is not required for prolonged periods). Examples of lubricating ointments for dry eye include Refresh PM (Allergan) and Advanced Eye Relief Ointment (Bausch & Lomb).

For more information, visit the Consumer Guide to Eye Problems & Diseases.