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What Are the Common Causes of an Allergic Reaction to Eye Drops?

By Jamie Nedderman
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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As with all medications, an allergic reaction to eye drops is possible. Ingredients such as preservatives are a common factor, so the medication contents should be carefully scrutinized. Discontinuing some types of drops such as decongestants can cause problems, which may be incorrectly blamed on the drops themselves. Steroids and contact solution also may create some side effects that are undesirable. Those considering using eye drops should know the signs of eye allergies so that proper treatment can be obtained if necessary.

One of the primary causes of an allergic reaction to eye drops is the preservatives in some drops, especially those which lubricate dry eyes. People needing dry eye relief in this case should seek a preservative-free brand. Likewise, if new eye drops cause an adverse reaction, the list of ingredients should be compared to that of previously used drops to uncover differences.

Individuals using decongestants to relieve red eyes may find problems when actually discontinuing use of eye drops. Decongestants use vasoconstrictors to cause the blood vessels to be smaller and the eyes less red. If the blood vessels depend on the vasoconstrictors to stay small, then discontinuing use of these drops can cause the blood vessels to become even bigger, and the eyes more red, than before the drops were ever used.

For those who suffer from allergies, a corticosteroid eye drop might be used to decrease swelling. Steroids, however, can create adverse effects such as increased inner eye pressure and cataracts. Other discomforts similar to the allergic reaction to eye drops might also be experienced.

Contact solution can also generate an allergic reaction. If problems develop, comparing the ingredient lists to prior-used solutions might uncover the culprit. Some drops can discolor or damage the contact lenses themselves, which will lead to discomfort. If the chosen solution doesn’t sufficiently clean airborne allergens from the lenses, negative reactions might also be experienced. An optometrist can assist in the decision-making process of which to use, or daily disposable contact lenses can be worn, since they are discarded daily and do not require cleaning.

Signs of an allergic reaction are an abnormal reaction to something that normally doesn’t cause such a reaction after using the eye drops. Examples include redness, itchiness, and swelling, as well as dryness and irritation. Most symptoms are more annoying than dangerous, but if more serious symptoms develop, medical intervention is necessary.

Treating an allergic reaction to eye drops is best achieved by avoiding what is causing the symptoms. This is why determining which ingredients cause irritation and explicitly following dosage and usage directions is so important. If symptoms do not resolve or worsen, the individual should seek medical attention.

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Discussion Comments
By Talentryto — On Jan 11, 2015

@rundocuri- Yes, preservative free lubricating eye drops are more expensive than other types of eye drops. Not only are there few drops in the small, individual vials, but you must throw away any amount that you don't use once you open them. If you don't, you could risk causing an eye infection since there are no preservatives to keep these drops fresh.

Though there are some cons to using this type of eye drops, the pros outnumber them if you are prone to allergic reactions to eye drops. They are easy to use, comfortable when they are in your eyes, and much less likely to cause irritation since there are no preservatives in them.

By Rundocuri — On Jan 11, 2015

@talentryto- I have never tried using individually packaged lubricating eye drops, though I need to find some that work without causing my eyes to itch and swell. Aren't preservative free drops much more costly than the regular kind?

By Talentryto — On Jan 10, 2015

@heavanet- Thank you for the tips. I also have sensitive eyes, which is often hard to deal with when you wear contact lenses. I'm always looking for better ways to clean them and to re-moisturize them after a long day at the office.

When I do need to use eye drops to freshen my lenses during the day, the individual packets without preservatives definitely work best.

By Heavanet — On Jan 10, 2015

I wear contact lenses, and I have had allergic reactions to several types of contact solutions. I have had to eliminate several different kinds in order to find the best solution for my sensitive eyes.

Though everyone is different, and some people are allergic to specific ingredients while others aren't, I have found that contact solutions and drops that contain lubricating ingredients cause me to have an allergic reaction. When I use them, my eyes get itchy, red, and swollen.

Basic contact disinfecting solution works best for me, because it doesn't have the ingredients that cause my eye allergies to act up. I also rinse my contacts in saline solution that is formulated for contact lens wearers. After a night of soaking in the disinfecting solution, rinsing my contact lenses with the saline seems to make them more comfortable. It is also gentle on sensitive eyes, and has few ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction.

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