We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

Dealing with dry eyes

Dry eyes can be a symptom of a variety of conditions. Being outside on a windy day or staring too long at your computer without blinking can dry out your eyes. You may also experience the discomfort of dry eyes due to a health problem or a new medication you’re using. When you find yourself dealing with the burning sensation of dry eyes, all you want is a little relief.

Fortunately, there are a variety of eye drops that can provide instant help. There are also some products you should probably avoid in favor of those that are safer and more effective. Before reading about the best drops for your eyes, take a moment to learn what causes dry eyes and what you should look for in those soothing eye drops.

Your eyes become dry when your tears no longer provide enough moisture to keep them lubricated and comfortable. This might be due to insufficient tear production. A lack of moisture could also be related to the quality of your tears. Without enough moisture, the cornea can become irritated. The cornea is the clear covering of the front part of the eye, which includes the iris and pupil. Normally, your tears coat the cornea every time you blink, keeping it lubricated and healthy.

All kinds of biological and environmental conditions can lead to dry eyes. These can include:

  • being pregnant
  • women receiving hormone replacement therapy
  • taking certain decongestants, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications, which may cause dry eyes as a side effect
  • wearing contact lenses
  • laser eye surgery, such as LASIK
  • eye strain caused by insufficient blinking
  • seasonal allergies

There are many other causes, too. Diseases of the immune system, such as lupus, can cause dry eyes, as can diseases of the eyes or the skin around the eyelids. Dry eyes also tend to be more common as you get older.

The best eye drops for you may depend on what’s drying out your eyes.


Most over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops contain humectants (substances that help retain moisture), lubricants, and electrolytes, such as potassium. OTC options for dry eyes are available in traditional eye drops, as well as gels and ointments. Gels and ointments tend to stay in the eyes longer, so they’re recommended for overnight use. Recommended gels include GenTeal Severe Dry Eye and Refresh Celluvisc.


Prescription eye drops may also include medications to help treat chronic eye problems. Cyclosporine (Restasis) is a prescription eye drop that treats inflammation that causes eye dryness. This type of inflammation usually stems from a condition known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, also called dry eye syndrome. The drops are usually used twice a day to help increase tear production. Cyclosporine is recommended for long-term use. It’s only available as a prescription, and it can cause side effects.

With preservatives

Drops come in two forms: those with preservatives and those without. Preservatives are added to eye drops to help prevent the growth of bacteria. Some people find drops with preservatives irritating to their eyes. They’re generally not recommended for people with more serious eye dryness. Drops with preservatives include HypoTears, Soothe Long Lasting, and Eye Relief.

Without preservatives

Drops without preservatives are recommended for people with moderate or severe dry eyes. They’re sometimes packaged in single-use containers. As you might expect, they’re also more expensive. Some examples of non-preservative drops include Refresh, TheraTear, and Systane Ultra.

If your eye dryness is the result of diminished oil layer in your tears, your doctor may recommend drops that contain oil. Rosacea in the eyelids, for example, can reduce your eye’s oil supply. Some effective eye drops with oil include Systane Balance, Sooth XP, and Refresh Optive Advanced.

Certain products temporarily take the red out of your eyes, but they don’t treat the causes of eye dryness. If your goal is to treat dry eyes, you will want to avoid drops that promise to remove redness, such as Visine and Clear Eyes.

In general, many causes of mild eye dryness can be treated with OTC eye drops, gels, and ointments. But as mentioned above, dry eyes can be the result of serious health problems. You should have your eye health evaluated annually. In addition to having your vision checked, tell your doctor if you experience dry eyes. Knowing the cause of the dryness will help you and your doctor make the best choice of eye drops and other treatments.

There are many products available to treat dryness, but getting the advice of an eye doctor is the best step you can take toward more comfortable eyes.