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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 may 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 and treatments can lead to dry eyes. These can include:

  • pregnancy
  • hormone replacement therapy
  • certain decongestants, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications, which may cause dry eyes as a side effect
  • contact lens wear
  • 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.

The eye drops you use to treat dry eye come in a few types. Over-the-counter (OTC) drops, sometimes called artificial tears or lubricating eye drops, either have preservatives or are preservative-free. They come in a liquid, gel, or ointment.

Prescription eye drops bring down inflammation and help your eyes make more tears. They’re for more severe dry eye.

With preservatives vs. without preservatives

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. Products 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, TheraTears, and Systane Ultra. They come in individual drop vials that you twist off.

If your eye dryness is the result of a diminished oil layer in your tears, your doctor may recommend drops that help rebalance the oil and water layer of your tears. Rosacea in the eyelids, for example, can cause imbalance in the composition of your tears. Some effective eye drops with oil include Systane Balance, Soothe XP, and Refresh Optive Advanced.

We chose the brands included in this list based on a number of factors, including brand integrity, safety, clinical research, and consumer reviews. Healthline has a rigorous vetting process that ensures the products we recommend have been approved by a team of medical experts.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $12
  • $$ = $12–$20
  • $$$ = over $20

Best for lubrication

Systane Ultra Preservative-Free

  • Price: $
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: put 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s), as needed
  • How long effects last: 8 hours

Systane Ultra has been around since 2008, and it has more than a decade’s worth of evidence to back it up. Studies find that its combination of lubricants — polyethylene glycol 400 and propylene glycol — are both safe and effective for the temporary relief of burning and irritation due to dry eyes.

Among a sea of dry eye relief competitors, Systane Ultra has a unique mode of action. It’s designed to both add volume to the tear film, and form a protective gel matrix to shield your eyes against future dryness.

Systane Ultra outperforms many of its competitors when it comes to lubricating the eye and reducing conjunctival and corneal staining — a measurement eye doctors use to determine dry eye severity. Plus it has the added benefit of low viscosity, which basically means you shouldn’t see a blur when you put in the drops or feel any extra friction when you blink.

People who used Systane Ultra in studies reported a noticeable improvement in dryness, grittiness, and burning. The drops were determined to be safe, posing no real risks, even for contact lens wearers. This product is also preservative-free to appeal to those with sensitive eyes.

Best for all dry-eye types

Systane Complete Preservative-Free

  • Price: $$
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: shake bottle well, and place 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed
  • How long effects last: 8 hours

Systane again makes our list, this time for its versatile Complete formulation. It’s designed to treat all three types of dry eye:

  • Aqueous tear deficient: when your eyes don’t make enough tears
  • Evaporative dry eye: when the meibomian glands in your eyes don’t work as well as they should, and your tears evaporate too quickly
  • Mixed dry eye: a combination of aqueous tear deficiency and evaporative dry eye

Like Systane Ultra, this product is preservative-free. But it comes in a single bottle instead of single-use vials. That’s good for the environment, but it may not be as convenient on the go.

The company touts its “nano-droplet technology,” which aims to quickly disperse the drop across the whole eye to provide quick hydration. Plus, the drop should stay on the eye’s surface for long-lasting relief. In one study, more than 80% of patients reported a soothing sensation that lasted a full 8 hours after a single drop (the study was funded by Alcon, the company that makes Systane).

Best for preserving tear film

Soothe XP

  • Price: $$$
  • Preservatives?: not in the preservative-free version
  • How to use: shake well before using and apply 1 or 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed
  • How long effects last: up to 8 hours

Your tear film is the thin layer that lubricates and protects your eye. It’s made up of water and a fatty oil (lipid) from the meibomian glands that line your eyelids. When your tear film is lacking because those glands aren’t working well, called meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), your eyes can feel dry and irritated. That’s where Soothe XP may help.

Soothe XP from Bausch + Lomb is different than some other artificial tears. It contains an emollient — a combination of mineral oils designed to help thicken the lipid layer of the tear film.

In a 2016 study of 40 people with dry eyes due to the loss of lipids, the drops did increase lipid layer thickness by 58% within 15 minutes — though it’s important to note that the study was sponsored by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which owns Bausch + Lomb. By comparison, a non-emollient eye drop had no effect on the lipid layer.

A thicker lipid layer should offer temporary relief from the burning and irritation you already have, and may protect against further irritation. Soothe XP comes in a bottle containing preservatives, and a preservative-free version with 30 single-use vials.

Best for overnight dry eye relief

HydraSense Night Therapy

  • Price: $
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: tilt your head back and lower your bottom eyelid to create a pocket, then squeeze the bottle to release 1 or 2 drops into the pocket; close your eyes to let the drop disperse across the surface of your eye
  • How long effects last: the manufacturer claims the effects are “long-lasting”

HydraSense Night Therapy is a liquid gel meant to be used at bedtime to relieve dry eye while you sleep. Its slightly thicker consistency aims to give it more staying power on your eye for overnight relief. The main active ingredient is sodium hyaluronate, a substance found naturally in your skin, joints, and eyes.

You’ll see this natural lubricant in many eye-care products because of its ability to hold in water. Sodium hyaluronate also has anti-inflammatory properties. Those combined abilities make it effective at relieving dry eye symptoms like itching, burning, watering, and light sensitivity during the day or night.

HydraSense Night Therapy comes in a single bottle instead of individual doses. The manufacturer claims its innovative filter keeps the contents sterile with no need for preservatives, but studies haven’t confirmed how well that filter works.

Best for age-related dry eyes

Refresh Optive Mega-3 Lubricant

  • Price: $$
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: place 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed
  • How long effects last: the package says it provides “temporary relief” of dry eye

These preservative-free lubricating eye drops treat meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), the leading cause of dry eye, especially as you age. What makes this product unique is that in addition to a lubricant, it contains the omega-3 fatty acid flaxseed oil. Omega-3 fatty acids are a natural component of your eye’s tear film.

The package claims that Refresh Optive Mega-3 “restores all three layers of the tear film destroyed by dry eye.” How well does it actually work?

In a 2019 study sponsored by Allergan, the brand’s manufacturer, Refresh Optive Mega-3 improved tear film thickness for a full hour after participants used the drops. It also relieved symptoms of dryness compared to an eye drop without omega-3s.

Refresh Optive Mega-3 appears to be safe. Participants in the study didn’t report any notable side effects.

Best for contact lens wearers

Blink-N-Clean Lens Drops

  • Price: $
  • Preservatives?: yes
  • How to use: up to four times a day, apply 1 to 2 drops in each eye and blink several times
  • How long effects last: a few hours

Eye dryness is a common complaint among contact lens wearers. One reason is that the lens divides the tear film, thinning the layer of protection that buffers your eyes against the elements. Before you toss your contacts, you might want to dry lubricating them in these drops.

Blink-N-Clean Lens Drops should not only moisturize your contacts before you put them on and while you wear them, but they may also remove protein and other gunk that can build up on your lenses during daily wear and irritate your eyes.

You can use Blink-N-Clean with soft contact lenses, including disposable, daily-wear and extended-wear lenses, as well as with rigid gas-permeable (RGP) contact lenses. Though it does contain preservatives, it’s free from thimerosal and other forms of mercury that some people find irritating to the eyes.

This product may cause side effects like:

  • stinging, burning, or itching eyes
  • less sharp or blurred vision
  • excess tearing
  • redness
  • dry eyes

These problems are usually temporary. If they continue, remove your lenses right away and contact your eye doctor.

Best for post-LASIK dryness

Refresh Plus Preservative-Free

  • Price: $$
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: put 1 to 2 drops in each eye, as needed (after LASIK, follow your eye doctor’s recommendations for use)
  • How long effects last: a few hours

Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) is a type of vision-correction surgery. Though this procedure can improve sight, it also carries a risk of side effects.

Dry eye is one of the most common complaints following LASIK. Up to 95% of people have dry eyes immediately after their procedure. One month later, 6 out of 10 people are still experiencing some dryness.

Refresh Plus contains the ingredient carboxymethylcellulose sodium, which research finds reduces dry eye symptoms after LASIK. It also works well for dry eyes unrelated to vision correction surgery.

The single-use containers are preservative-free and easy to bring with you in a purse or backpack. And Refresh Plus should be gentle enough to use on sensitive eyes.

After surgery, it’s best to check with your eye doctor before using any eye drops. If you do get the OK but develop any eye pain, redness, or changes in vision from this product, stop using it and let your doctor know.

Best for severe dry eye symptoms

Optase Dry Eye Intense Drops

  • Price: $$$
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: gently pull your lower lid out while looking up and put 1 to 2 drops in the space between your eyelid and eye
  • How long effects last: the description promises “long-lasting relief”

Serious dry eye needs serious care — more than a run-of-the-mill eye drop can offer. Optase Dry Eye Intense Drops are designed to not only relieve symptoms, but also create a shield that holds moisture in your eye.

This product contains glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which are known to keep moisture on the surface of your eyes and lubricate them. Research shows that these ingredients slow the tear film breakup time — the amount of time it takes for a dry spot to appear after you blink — and help heal any damage to your eye caused by dry eye.

Optase Dry Eye Intense Drops are preservative-free and gentle enough to use every day. They’re also safe for contact lens wearers.

Best for quick relief

TheraTears Dry Eye Therapy

  • Price: $
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: place 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed
  • How long effects last: the package promises “long-lasting relief”

The main ingredient in TheraTears Dry Eye Therapy, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, has been well-established as an effective eye lubricant. It binds to the surface of the cornea to provide quick relief from dry-eye symptoms.

TheraTears adds electrolytes like calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, and potassium chloride, which are components of your own natural tears. Its line of products was formulated by a Harvard-educated eye doctor and clinically tested to provide maximum relief.

Best for on-the-go relief

Refresh Tears Lubricant Eye Drops

  • Price: $$$
  • Preservatives?: yes
  • How to use: place 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed
  • How long effects last: a few hours

Refresh Tears is your basic lubricating eye drop. It doesn’t have any bells-and-whistles, but like other drops in this category, it mimics your natural tears to provide quick soothing relief.

The multi-pack offers the added convenience of including four bottles. Keep one at home, one in the car, and one in your purse or desk drawer to use whenever your eyes are feeling a little parched.

This product does contain preservatives. And, because it’s in a reusable bottle, it’s important to avoid contaminating the contents by not touching the tip of the container to your eye or any other surface when you use it.

Best for redness relief

Lumify

  • Price: $$$
  • Preservatives?: yes
  • How to use: up to four times a day, put 1 drop in the affected eye(s) every 6 to 8 hours (remove contact lenses before using, and wait 10 minutes after using before putting them back in)
  • How long effects last: up to 8 hours

Dry eye is more than a feeling. Redness often goes hand in hand with irritation.

Lumify won’t help with the sensation of dry eye, but it should get the red out so your friends don’t think you’ve been pulling an all-nighter.

Research shows that its active ingredient, brimonidine tartrate, is very effective for clearing redness. It’s also safe, with only mild side effects like itching, a feeling of something in the eye, and tearing reported by a small number of study participants.

You can use Lumify along with your dry eye relief drops — just wait 5 minutes before applying the next medicine. Lumify is safe for contact users too, but remove your lenses before you place the drops.

Best for boosting hydration

Biotrue Hydration Boost Eye Drops

  • Price: $
  • Preservatives?: no
  • How to use: squeeze bottle to place 1 or 2 drops in each eye
  • How long effects last: not stated

Biotrue’s combination of glycerin and sodium hyaluronate (a form of hyaluronic acid) should soothe the irritation you already have and protect against future soreness.

This product boasts a pH-balanced formula to moisturize your eyes just like your natural tears do. Its quick hydration boost may come as a relief after hours spent staring at your computer screen or being outside in the sun and wind.

You can safely use these drops while wearing soft contact lenses. Biotrue hasn’t been tested on RGP lenses, so it’s best to wait 10 minutes after using the product before putting in that type of lens.

If you’re into protecting the environment, you’ll feel good knowing that the package is not only reusable, but also fully recyclable. The company has its own Biotrue Eye Care Recycling Program.

Best for long-lasting relief

Visine Dry Eye Relief All Day Comfort

  • Price: $$
  • Preservatives?: yes
  • How to use: put 1 to 2 drops in the affected eye(s) as needed (ask a doctor before using this product on children under age 6)
  • How long effects last: up to 10 hours

If you need your dry eye drops to take you through an entire day of work or play, Visine Dry Eye Relief is worth checking out. The manufacturer promises relief that lasts for up to 10 hours.

The main ingredient is polyethylene glycol, an anti-inflammatory. It should go to work within seconds, forming a protective layer over your eye that locks in moisture and shields against further irritation. And you shouldn’t need to reapply the drops as frequently as you would with other products.

Best eye gel

GenTeal Tears Lubricating Eye Gel

  • Price: $$$
  • Preservatives?: yes
  • How to use: put 1 to 2 drops into the affected eye(s) as needed
  • How long effects last: not stated

GenTeal Tears Lubricating Eye Gel takes a different approach to managing dry eyes. It’s a gel formulation that contains the ingredient hypromellose, which helps with symptoms like dryness, and the annoying feeling that something is in your eye.

GenTeal has a few different formulations of its Tears products. This one is meant to be used before bed, to soothe severe dry eye irritation while you sleep.

Over-the-counter

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.

Prescription

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.

Lifitegrast (Xiidra) is a newer prescription drop for dry eye. It’s the first of a new group of medicines called lymphocyte function-associated antigen 1 (LFA-1) antagonists. It works by blocking a protein that stimulates your immune system to produce inflammation. Possible side effects include eye irritation, blurred vision, and an unusual taste.

You should be able to treat mild dry eye at home using OT eye drops. See your doctor if your symptoms are severe or bothersome, or they don’t improve with home treatment. You could have an underlying condition that needs treatment.

It’s important to manage chronic dry eye. When left untreated long-term, it could damage and scar your cornea.

Do I need prescription eye drops?

Have a conversation with your doctor about the cause and symptoms of your dry eye. If your dry eye is more severe, your doctor might recommend Restasis or Xiidra. Prescription medication may also be helpful if your dry eye is severe, or is due to an inflammatory condition like Sjogren’s syndrome or lupus that causes inflammation in the eye.

Is it OK to use dry eye drops every day?

Yes, it is safe to use artificial tears four times a day, and preservative-free artificial tears every hour. OTC dry eye drops aren’t meant for long-term relief. Use them on an as-needed basis. If your dry eye is an everyday occurrence, see your eye doctor. You might need a stronger prescription medication or special plugs in your tear ducts to hold the moisture in your eyes.

Will my eyes adjust after using dry eye drops?

Some dry eye drops cause blurring right after you put them in. Your vision should clear after a few minutes. If it doesn’t, stop using the product and consult with your eye doctor.

Take dry eyes seriously.

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 a health condition.

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.