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Overusing Eye Drops - Not a Pretty Sight

Overusing Eye Drops - Not a Pretty Sight


Do those who use the old saying "everything in moderation" really mean everything? I used to think there must be some activities that were exempt from the adage, but now I'm not so sure.

Many of us might not worry about overdosing on water, but it's true that in rare cases drinking too much H²O can lead to a potentially fatal condition called water intoxication. And I'm sure the last thing that people with jobs and kids have to worry about is getting too much sleep, but the killjoys over at the University of California, San Diego released a study showing that people who sleep at least eight hours a night are more likely to die younger.

Is it not safe to overindulge in anything these days? As it turns out, even something as seemingly benign as eye drops can be harmful if overused. Although using too many eye drops may not bring about premature death, the problems it can cause may shock you.

Eye drops are used to treat several conditions, including glaucoma, allergies, and dry eyes. Prescription eye drops, of the sort used in the treatment of glaucoma and certain severe allergies, carry explicit instructions on how many to use at a time as well as the total number of eye drops that can be safely used in one day. Similar precautions are included in the packaging of over-the-counter eye drops, such as Clear Eyes® and Visine A.C.® Nevertheless, many people ignore these instructions, using eye drops whenever they feel the slightest discomfort.

Those who have followed the advice of Ben Stein and used eye drops to “get the red out” may be surprised to learn that overuse of these drops can increase eye redness and actually bring about the conditions that they are trying to correct.

Naphazoline, one of the active ingredients in Clear Eyes®, is used in stronger quantities in prescription-only eye drops and treats redness caused by pollen, smog, and other irritants. With overuse, this ingredient can instigate a laundry list of side effects, including dizziness, headache, increased sweating, nausea, weakness, nervousness, decrease in body temperature, and slow heartbeat. The potential side effects from overusing prescription eye drops with other active ingredients are similarly unpleasant, and include vomiting, troubled breathing, and back pain.

On the other hand, artificial tears do not contain the same ingredients found in prescription eye drops (and many over-the-counter allergy eye drops) that can be harmful if overused. Therefore, it is much safer to use artificial tears repeatedly. Many of the package instructions do not limit the total number of drops that can be applied, but eye doctors caution that the preservatives in some artificial tears can increase irritation if used too frequently. The good news is that, in the case of preservative-free artificial tears, there is almost no risk of overuse.

Even though I am now aware of the potential dangers of using eye drops, I don't plan on losing any sleep over them (even if more snooze-time can potentially shorten my lifespan). Most people don’t have reason to worry much, as long as they follow the usage instructions on their prescriptions or labels and treat dry eyes with preservative-free artificial tears. While they’re at it, they would also be wise to remember that old sayings are often true.

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