Can eye drops make my eyes feel worse?

Published on
February 22, 2023

Dry eye disease is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The first line of treatment for dry eye disease is usually artificial tears or eye drops. However, it's not uncommon for some people to report that their eyes feel worse after using eye drops. In this blog post, we'll explain why this can sometimes happen and share some helpful tips so that you can have a successful dry eye treatment.

The Hidden Risks of Eyedrops for Dry Eye: What You Need to Know

Many people feel burning or irritation right after putting eyedrops in, and this is often because of the preservatives that are in those eye drops. Most of the newer eyedrops in the market have what is called a soft preservative, which is believed to not cause any damage to the ocular surface. However, many generics and older brands of eyedrops, including prescription medications, often have a preservative called benzalkonium chloride (BaK), which can cause damage to the ocular surface and even result in an allergy in some cases.

Another reason why eye drops can worsen dry eyes is the use of "get the red out" drops, which contain ingredients that can irritate the eyes and make dry eye worse. These types of drops usually have an ingredient called Tetrahydrozoline in them, which helps constrict the blood vessels on the surface of the eye, making them look more white. However, this ingredient tends to wear off and become less effective over time, leading to a rebound effect where the redness gets worse and the cycle continues.

It's also important to note that not all eyedrops are created equal, and it's crucial to choose the right type of eye drop for your specific needs. In some cases, using the wrong type of eye drop can make dry eye symptoms worse. For instance, if you have meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), a common cause of dry eye, using regular artificial tears might not be enough to treat the condition. Instead, you might need a specific type of drop for short term relief and treatment such as heating and expression of the meibomian glands to properly treat MGD.

Additionally, the frequency of use and the amount of eye drops used can also affect the severity of dry eye symptoms. Our tear film is made up of a delicate balance of mucine, aqua, and lipid (oil) layers, overuse of eye drops changes our natural tear film which protects our eyes and vision. 

Overusing eye drops can lead to a rebound effect, where your eyes become even more dry, inflamed,  and sensitive, leading to a vicious cycle. It's important to follow our eye doctor's recommendations and to not overuse eye drops.

Eye Drops 101: How to Minimize Discomfort and Maximize Benefits

To prevent your eyes from feeling worse after using eye drops, there are a few tips you can follow:

  • Avoid using "get the red out" drops. Speak to our optometrist about healthier options to reduce red eye. 
  • Use preservative-free eyedrops if you can. If not, talk to our eye doctor about what type of dry eye you may have and what type of eye drops we would recommend for you.
  • If preservative-free eyedrops are not an option, consider using the nano dropper attachment, which reduces the size of the drops by 70% and helps reduce any irritation or potential ocular surface damage.
  • Use warm compresses and lid massages as recommended by our eye doctor 
  • Speak to our eye doctor about supplements such as omega 3. 

Don't Let Dry Eye Interfere with Your Life. Schedule an Evaluation Today!

Don't let dry eye disease and the use of eye drops make your condition worse. If you're experiencing discomfort or irritation after using eye drops, it's crucial to seek the help of our professional optometrist. We can help you understand why eye drops can worsen dry eyes and provide you with the best solution for your specific needs. Whether you're using "get the red out" drops, have a sensitivity or are overusing drops with preservatives, or are using a different type of eye drop, we're here to help. Book an appointment today by calling (360) 491-2121 and start your journey to healthier, more comfortable eyes.

Patients with dry eye visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of dry eye services for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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