Getting The Red Out

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Over-the-Counter Eye Drops Are Not A Long Term Solution

Most people have experienced red eye at some point in their lives. The condition can be caused by temporary irritation such as dry air, a foreign body like dirt or dust, or wind and sun exposure. Other times it can be caused by an allergic reaction, or a variety of bacterial and viral infections. But whatever the cause, dry or red eye is uncomfortable and unsightly, and many people have reached for over-the-counter red eye relief drops for a quick fix.

But the active ingredient in products like these, which is called tetrahydrozoline, does nothing to help address what is causing the irritation or inflammation, instead providing very temporary relief from the cosmetic appearance of red eye. This active ingredient is what’s called a vasoconstrictor, and it works by shrinking the visible blood vessels it comes in contact with. So, for a brief period of time, your eyes look like they are back to normal.

In that time, however, your eye is being robbed of the oxygen and nutrients that are usually delivered via regular blood flow. As soon as the drops wear off, it is likely your eyes will be more irritated and uncomfortable than before, as your vessels gasp for air by swelling even larger. If this increased redness is addressed with more tetrahydrozoline drops, you may be entering a cycle like any other drug addiction. The confused blood vessels in your eye will rebound larger, redder and more quickly as they withdraw from each subsequent application, and at some point you can put yourself at risk for long term damage.

There are many better options for both the immediate comfort and long term health of your eyes than over-the-counter drops. Symptoms like red eye – whether caused by irritation, allergies or an infection –  are your body’s way of getting your attention and asking for help. Diagnosing the real problem allows us to both recommend care that will safely clear your eyes up and can help prevent red eye in the future.