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Why it’s important to use your eye drops correctly

Dr Justin Sherwin


A mature man holding an eye drop above his eye.

Eye drops are real medicine, just like tablets and injections.

This means they need to be treated with the same care as other more familiar medications. Missing doses, discontinuing treatment or failing to use eye drops as directed can put your sight at risk.

Eye drops are used in the treatment of many eye conditions including glaucoma or raised eye pressure, conjunctivitis, ocular inflammation and dry eye disease. They can also be prescribed after eye surgery, when there may be a need to prevent infection or reduce inflammation.

Regardless of why you have been prescribed eye drops, you should always use them exactly as your doctor tells you to. And while eye drops are the most common formulation, the same applies to eye gels and eye ointments.

Combining treatment with other regular tasks (e.g. brushing your teeth) or setting an alarm on your phone can help remind you to use your eye drops.

If you’re finding it difficult to use your eye drops as directed, don’t give up! Instead, this eye drops fact sheet can help. You can also follow my tips for obtaining the greatest benefit from eye drops and minimising side-effects:

Top six tips when using eye drops

  1. Always check the label

    It’s amazing how many people mistakenly put something other than eye drops into their eye. It’s common for bottles of eye drops to get mixed up with ear drops or even small bottles of glue. The resultant damage can be quite severe if the exposure results in a chemical burn to the eye.

  2. Never apply eye drops while you are wearing contact lenses

    It might seem fairly logical, but many people don’t think to remove their contact lenses before putting in their eye drops. Contact lenses can interfere with the distribution of the drops, thereby reducing their effectiveness. You should also wait at least 20 minutes after applying the drops before you reinsert your contact lenses, otherwise residue from the eye drops could adhere to the lens.

  3. Apply one drop at a time and wait a few minutes before applying the next drop

    Applying drops in quick succession will waste medication because the first drop is pushed out of the eye without having had a chance to work. The eye can only hold less than half a drop at any time, with the rest spilling over onto the areas around the eye. If the label says to apply two drops, don’t apply both drops at the same time. Apply one drop, wait at least 2 minutes and then apply the next drop.

  4. Don’t blink your eye vigorously after applying the eye drop

    You should gently close your eye or blink normally, otherwise you will end up pushing the drop out of your eye.

  5. Try to keep the drop in your eye to minimise side-effects

    Place pressure on the lower tear ducts (located next to the bridge of the nose) to reduce the amount of eye drop entering the bloodstream – this minimises the potential for any side-effects from the eye drop affecting the rest of the body. Also, make sure to wipe away any excess liquid with a tissue to reduce potential irritation of the surrounding skin.

  6. Don’t let the tip of the eye drop bottle touch your eye

    If this occurs, it increases the risk of an eye infection because bugs from the eye may contaminate the eye drop solution.

If you are having difficulty instilling the drops, consider asking a family member or friend to help. Alternatively, eye drop aids are available. If you’re still having difficulties, ask your doctor for advice.

Dr Justin Sherwin is a general ophthalmologist with special interests in cataract surgery, glaucoma, pterygium and medical retinal conditions (e.g. macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy). He practises at Vision Eye Institute Footscray.

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The information on this page is general in nature. All medical and surgical procedures have potential benefits and risks. Consult your ophthalmologist for specific medical advice.

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