Worth a Second Look: Preservatives and Dry Eye

Health Writer

Can artificial tears make dry eye worse? In some cases, say experts, the preservatives used in topical treatments can irritate the eye. If your artificial tears don’t seem to help, check to see if they contain any of the following common preservatives:

  • BAK (benzalkonium chloride)
  • Chlorobutanol
  • Dissipate (stabilized oxyborate complex)
  • EDTA or edetic acid
  • PHMB (polyhexamethylene biguanide)
  • Polyquad (polyquaternium-1)
  • Purite (stabilized oxychloro complex)
  • Sodium silver chloride
  • Sorbate (sorbic acid)
  • Thimerosal (mercuriothiolate sodium)

There are several brands of preservative-free artificial tears, ointments and lens cleaning solutions available without a prescription. For many patients, finding the right product is a matter of trial and error.

Artificial tears are, at best, a short term solution. Even preservative-free products should not be used indefinitely. A growing body of research shows that prolonged use of topical eye treatments can harm the surface of the eye, increase discomfort to the eye and even make existing cases of dry eye syndrome worse. That’s why it’s important to see an ophthalmologist when dry eye persists and to follow a treatment plan that addresses the cause, as well as the symptoms.

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