Most of us have at one time or another experienced the unpleasant feeling of dry, irritated, and itchy eyes and the accompanying redness. Allergies, staring at a computer screen all day, wearing your contacts too long, or even an eye infection can all cause those unsightly bloodshot eyes.
Whatever the reason, redness is a clear sign of inflammation in the eyes. This inflammation is due to the little blood vessels in the eyes that dilate and fill with blood, which causes the eyes to appear red.
Sometimes the redness goes away on its own.
Other times we have to turn to over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops to help reduce the redness and provide relief.
In fact, nearly 120 million Americans use eye drops every year, and that number is only expected to grow.
But many of the eye drops you find in the store simply mask the problem without addressing the underlying cause and may leave your eyes redder and more dry and irritated than before.
These drops often contain vasoconstrictors that narrow the blood vessels in the eyes to reduce the appearance of redness but do nothing to help manage inflammation or dryness. They also include harmful preservatives that can lead to more irritation and dryness.
That’s why it’s important to make sure the ingredients in your eye drops are safe and actually help heal the eyes and reduce inflammation.
Let’s take a look at the top 5 eye drops for helping get rid of red eyes.
1. Rain Eye Drops
RAIN eye drops contain cutting-edge dry eye technology designed to moisturize and rejuvenate the eyes and reduce inflammation and redness. They are preservative-free and intended for daily use to help soothe and lubricate dry, irritated eyes.
The main active ingredient in RAIN eye drops is carboxymethylcellulose sodium.
Inactive ingredients like magnesium, potassium, and sodium chloride help draw water out of the cornea and reduce swelling that may cause eye irritation.
How it Works
Carboxymethylcellulose sodium is a unique compound that helps lubricate, heal, and protect the eyes.
Its unique chemical properties allow it to bind to the surface of the eye and restore the thin layer of fluid on the surface of the eye, called the tear film. The tear film helps keep the eyes moisturized.
It also helps improve the eye’s natural ability to heal from irritation caused by dryness and protect against further irritation.
In clinical trials, carboxymethylcellulose improved symptoms of dry eyes and helped restore the tear film and prevent dryness.
Why RAIN Eye Drops Are Better Than Other OTC Drops
Most OTC drops can only be used for a limited amount of time before your eyes start adapting to them and they don’t work as well. There may even be a rebound effect, known as rebound redness, which causes your eyes to appear redder than before once the drops wear off.
RAIN eye drops work differently. They don’t just superficially target redness with vasoconstricting agents. Instead, they help address the underlying cause by restoring the natural eye environment and keeping the eyes moisturized and protected.
They can be used daily and as often as you’d like to improve the eye’s ability to retain moisture by preventing your natural tears from evaporating. And they never lose their effectiveness or cause rebound redness.
RAIN eye drops also don’t include harmful preservatives found in many OTC drops, like benzalkonium chloride, which can irritate the eyes and cause more redness.
In fact, benzalkonium has been shown to disrupt the tear film, reducing eye moisture and causing dryness. It also damages the various tissues in the eyes causing inflammation.
How to Use Them
To apply RAIN eye drops, simply twist and pull the cap off the vial. Then squeeze 1 or 2 drops in the affected eye(s). Then discard the vial. Parents should consult a doctor before using them in children under 6 years of age.
2. Visine Red Eye Comfort
Visine Red Eye Comfort is a fast-acting drop that helps relieve eye redness caused by minor irritations such as lack of sleep, smoke, or too much screen time.
It contains tetrahydrozoline HCl (0.05%), which acts to narrow the swollen blood vessels in the eyes that cause red eyes.
Visine Red Eye Comfort does not contain lubricants and does not address the redness caused by dry eyes.
It is not meant for use over prolonged periods as the effects eventually wear off.
From popular eye health company Bausch and Lomb, Lumify exclusively targets redness.
It contains brimonidine tartrate (0.025%) which helps constrict the tiny blood vessels in the eyes and reduces the appearance of redness. Brimonidine was originally used to treat glaucoma, but patients found it had the fortunate side effect of making their eyes appear whiter and brighter.
Lumify was released in 2018 and is currently the only OTC eye drop that contains brimonidine.
The drops are designed to work fast (within minutes) and last for up to 8 hours with just a single drop. Due to its selective action, Lumify avoids some of the side effects associated with other redness relief drops, such as rebound redness.
However, it does contain the preservative benzalkonium chloride, which can cause dryness and redness and which people may want to avoid if they are sensitive to.
4. Clear Eyes Redness Relief Drops
Clear Eyes is another popular choice for reducing eye redness, mild dry eyes, and burning and irritation. It produces long-lasting comfort and redness relief of up to 12 hours.
The active ingredients in Clear Eyes are glycerin, which acts as a lubricant, and naphazoline hydrochloride (0.012%), which helps narrow the dilated blood vessels that lead to red eyes.
It helps calm irritation and protects against further irritation.
Like many other popular OTC drops, it contains benzalkonium chloride as a preservative.
5. Rohto Maximum Redness Relief
These lubricant eye drops provide fast relief from dry, red eyes that last for up to 8 hours. It works on all three layers of the tear film to mimic the actions of natural tears and help restore moisture to the eyes.
They contain naphazoline hydrochloride (0.03%), which is a much larger amount than most OTC drops normally contain. They also contain polysorbate 80 (0.2%), which helps lubricate the eye and reduce dryness and irritation. It also helps to flush out irritants that may be causing the redness.
Like some of the other drops listed here, Rohto eye drops also contain the preservative benzalkonium chloride.
When Should You Go To Go To a Doctor?
Sometimes eye redness is due to more than just dry, tired, or irritated eyes, and instead is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. This is called conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Pink eye is inflammation of the membrane that covers the eye and inside of the eyelid, known as the conjunctiva.
Symptoms of pink eye include a gritty feeling in the eye, discharge that can become crusty overnight, itchiness, and tearing. Many times these cases will resolve within 1-2 weeks on their own.
However, you should see a doctor if you are experiencing more severe symptoms of pink eye including:
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision
- Pain in your eyes
- Symptoms that don’t get better within 24 hours
You should also see a doctor if you have a weakened immune system.
They may run tests to determine if the cause is viral or bacterial and to determine the exact bacteria causing the infection. They may also prescribe you antibiotic eye drops to help speed up the healing and prevent the infection from spreading.
Allergic Conjunctivitis and Red eyes?
Allergic conjunctivitis is inflammation in the conjunctiva due to an allergic reaction to things like pollen or dander. These cases improve when the person reduces their exposure to the allergen.
Allergy medications and eye drops containing antihistamines like ketotifen or vasoconstrictors like naphazoline can help in cases of allergic conjunctivitis.
Preservatives and Preservative-free Eye Drops For Red Eyes
Most eye drops contain preservatives to help prevent the growth of bacteria after the bottle has been opened so they can be used for longer. However, many of these preservatives can irritate and potentially damage the eyes.
People that use eye drops regularly (more than 4 times a day) for long periods of time, or suffer from especially dry eyes, should avoid eye drops that contain preservatives.
Common preservatives you should watch out for include:
- benzalkonium chloride
- polyquaternium 1
- sodium perborate
Lubricating Eye Drops – Can They Help or Not?
Lubricating eye drops are helpful if the cause of your red eyes is due to dryness and lack of natural tear production. Otherwise, they will simply add extra moisture to your eyes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Sometimes, eye redness can be caused by something stuck in your eye, like an eyelash or a piece of dirt. In this case, lubricating eye drops may help to flush the foreign object out of your eyes and provide redness relief.
Do Pink Eye Drops Work For Red Eyes?
Pink eye drops are usually prescribed by your doctor when you have an eye infection. They contain antibiotics to help with the infection.
These drops are only helpful if your red eyes are caused by a bacterial infection.