How to Pick the Right Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Reaching for the wrong eye drops can leave your eyes more irritated than they already were. Use this guide to find the right dry eye drops for you.

How to pick the right eye drops for dry eye

If you have dry, scratchy eyes and Visine or Clear Eyes drops aren’t helping, trash those bottles, says Sandra Pinon, O.D., an optometrist at America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in New Braunfels, Texas. 

“These drops have a component that only makes the redness in the eyes go away. They don’t provide adequate moisture or lubrication to the surface of the eye,” she says. And if you keep using them, you could experience rebound redness. That means your eyes could end up redder and more irritated than they were before. 

Instead, consider one of these six eye drops to ease your dry eye symptoms

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1. Artificial Tears 

When you think of eye drops, artificial tears are probably what comes to mind. These drops help replenish the layers of the tear film. That’s what covers and protects your eyes. 

Tear film has three layers. “The drops I recommend to my patients help replenish each of these layers in one form or fashion,” says Dr. Pinon.  

Look for ones containing polyethylene glycol. They are more effective than drops that use carboxymethylcellulose/carmellose sodium and hydroxypropyl methylcellulose. 

2. Preservative-Free Eye Drops 

If you’re using over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears more than four times a day, Dr. Pinon recommends switching to preservative-free drops. Some artificial tears have preservatives that contain eye-irritating chemicals. 

“In some cases, it can exacerbate dry eye symptoms,” says Dr. Pinon. The preservative-free options offer relief with a lower risk of irritation. 

3. Eye Gels 

“Ophthalmic gels are a more viscous form of an eye drop,” says Dr. Pinon. The fluid is thicker and more jellylike than regular eye drops. 

Gels can lubricate your eyes better than artificial tears. That’s why they are often used in severe cases of dry eye. If you haven’t had luck with other types of artificial tears, it’s worth talking with your optometrist about eye gels. 

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4. Ointments 

Ointments are thicker, oily, semisolids that dissolve when exposed to your body heat. Eye doctors typically recommend using ophthalmic ointments at night because they can cause temporary blurry vision immediately after use. 

“People who suffer from lagophthalmos (incomplete closure of the eyelids while sleeping) would probably benefit the most from using ophthalmic ointments,” says Dr. Pinon. The ointments may help with dry eye symptoms such as redness upon waking and a dry, gritty sensation in the eyes, she says. 

5. Options for Contact-Lens Wearers 

Ophthalmic gels and ointments are excellent at providing lubrication for the eyes. But they also tend to cause blurry vision. That means they aren’t great picks for people who wear contact lenses

Instead, try regular rewetting drops, artificial tears, or preservative-free drops. “These won’t impede your vision while wearing contacts,” says Dr. Pinon. “And they’ll still provide the necessary moisture to the eye.” 

6. Prescription Eye Drops 

If you’re not finding good relief after trying OTC eye drops and lifestyle changes, talk with your optometrist. They may want to take a close look at the quality and quantity of your tear film, says Dr. Pinon. You could have a condition called aqueous deficient dry eye syndrome, she says. It’s when your tear glands don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist. 

Sjögren’s syndrome is another condition that causes dry eye. It’s an autoimmune disorder that leads to excessive dryness throughout the body, among other symptoms. It can both change the composition of tears and inflame the tear glands to the point where chronic dry eye is the result. 

If that’s happening to you, your doctor may suggest prescription eye drops, such as: 

  • Cyclosporine (Restasis) 

  • Lifitegrast (Xiidra) 

These prescription eye drops reduce eye inflammation and help the eyes produce more tears. It’s important to remove your contacts before using them. 

If you’re still not sure which eye drops are right for you, it’s a good idea to visit your eye doctor. They can perform an eye exam and help create a treatment plan to ease your most irritating symptoms. 

Press play for tips that make it easier to put in eye drops:


Medically reviewed by Sandra Pinon, O.D. 

See our sources: 
Artificial tears overview: Clinical Optometry 
Ophthalmic cyclosporine (Restasis) to treat dry eye: MedlinePlus 
Ophthalmic lifitegrast (Xiidra) overview: MedlinePlus