- Autologous serum eye drops are made from your own blood.
- Compared to artificial tears, these eye drops more closely resemble real tears.
- They may ease symptoms of chronic dry eye with few side effects, but there are barriers to treatment.
Everyone gets dry eyes from time to time. But chronic dry eye is another matter. That relentless burning sensation, excess tearing, and blurry vision can affect your quality of life.
Dry eye affects 5% to 34% of the world’s population. Many turn to artificial tears for temporary relief. However, artificial tears don’t have all the nutrients of natural tears that help maintain the tear film.
Autologous serum eye drops are closer to real tears. Because they’re made from your own blood, they contain important biological nutrients and immunoprotective proteins.
We’ll explore the potential benefits of autologous serum for chronic dry eye and what to consider before proceeding.
“Autologous” refers to a product that comes from the same person who will use it. Autologous serum eye drops are custom-made for you from your own blood. You’re both the donor and the recipient.
The first step is for a phlebotomist or nurse to draw a small amount of blood from your arm. You don’t need any preparation, such as fasting, before the procedure.
After the blood clots, it goes into a centrifuge. This separates the serum from solid components.
Next, the serum is removed and diluted with one of the following:
- a balanced salt solution
- preservative-free normal saline
- another sterile, preservative-free, eye-compatible solution
The formulation is then placed into sterile eye dropper bottles. It must remain frozen until you’re ready to use it. Once you start using it, you need to keep it refrigerated.
The serum is very similar to actual tears, but it
- vitamin A
- transforming growth factor‐β (TGF‐β)
- immunoglobulin A (IgA)
- epithelial growth factor (EGF)
- vitamin C
Autologous serum eye drops contain many of the same biochemical components as real tears, which are not found in artificial tears. These properties are thought to potentially help treat dry eye disease by reducing inflammation and promoting overall eye health.
In addition to treating dry eye symptoms, autologous serum eye drops are especially effective for people with severe ocular surface disorders such as:
- Stevens-Johnson syndrome
- ocular pemphigoid
- chemical injuries
- thermal burns
Autologous serum eye drops appear to work well for some people. But when it comes to effectiveness, there are a few things that make it hard to study.
First, there’s no standardized formulation. Some prescriptions are far more diluted than others.
Second, they’re made from each person’s own blood. Because they’re unique to an individual, it’s hard to compare results among people.
- artificial tears alone
- no treatment at all
The researchers concluded that the eye drops might be better at improving dry eye in the short term, meaning for two weeks. They found no information to make conclusions about long-term results.
A 2020 review of randomized control trials found that autologous serum eye drops could be an effective treatment for dry eye disease. All seven studies in this meta-analysis showed that the drops were more effective at relieving symptoms than artificial tears.
A small, double-blind
Larger, longer-term studies are needed to fully assess long-term effectiveness.
Most people tolerate autologous serum quite well.
The drops are made from your own blood, so there’s no risk of rejection. But because there are no preservatives, there’s some risk of contamination. If you use contaminated eye drops, you could develop an infection. However, there are very few reports of adverse events due to contamination.
For some people, blood draws are a problem. Any blood draw involves a needle stick, which can leave a minor site reaction. You might also have a problem with blood draws if you have:
- fear of needles
- hard-to-access veins
- low hemoglobin level
- transportation or time constraints that make blood draws difficult
In the United States, most health policies don’t cover autologous serum eye drops for dry eyes. It’s best to check with your insurer before making an appointment so you’re not caught off guard.
They’re custom-made, so the cost will vary depending on the facility. Generally speaking, it’ll cost several hundred dollars for a 2- or 3-month supply.
Depending on how severe your dry eye is, you can use autologous serum eye drops several times a day.
In clinical trials, participants used the drops from 2 weeks to 6 months. Your eye doctor will periodically check your eyes and advise you on continuing use.
Living with chronic dry eye is challenging. When other treatments don’t help, autologous serum eye drops might be worth a try. The eye drops are made from your own blood, so side effects are minimal.
If you’re thinking about getting this treatment, there are a few things to consider. It means you’ll need to have your blood drawn. Once you start using the drops, you must keep them refrigerated. There are no preservatives, so it’s important to avoid contamination.
This treatment may not be covered by your health insurance policy. Be sure to investigate your coverage and out-of-pocket costs in advance.
These eye drops may help relieve symptoms of dry eye with no or mild side effects.
Talk with your eye doctor about whether you’re a good candidate for autologous serum eye drops. If you have problems with blood draws, ask if using donor blood is a suitable option for you.