Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, better known as dry eye disease, is a chronic condition that affects millions of people.
Artificial tears and eye drops are common treatments for the condition, but some patients find that using them makes their symptoms worse. In most cases, this reaction is caused by compounds used to maintain the sterility of multidose drops. Here’s what you need to know about products that use a preservative versus preservative-free products. What is dry eye disease? Dry eye disease occurs when a patient’s eyes don’t produce enough tears or when tears evaporate too quickly. Common symptoms include: • Dryness • Burning • Sandy or gritty eye irritation that gets worse throughout the day • Pain • Redness • Feeling like there’s something stuck in your eye Dry eye disease can be caused by a multitude of underlying problems. If you consistently suffer from dry eyes, consult a healthcare professional to rule out potentially serious conditions. Whatever the cause, it can lead to scarring of the cornea if left untreated. How is dry eye disease treated? Artificial tears, medications or steroid eye drops may be used to manage the symptoms of dry eye disease. The precise treatment will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. To ensure each dose is sterile, most eye drops contain preservatives, most commonly benzalkonium chloride (BAK). The problem is that BAK has been shown to worsen many symptoms of dry eye disease and increase inflammation because it damages the surface of the eye. Are there alternative preservatives? Some products use preservatives other than BAK. Oxidizing preservatives, for instance, don’t affect the eye surface as much as BAK does. However, research in this area is ongoing, and while these products may work well for people dealing with mild or moderate cases of dry eye disease, they’re unlikely to be suitable for those dealing with severe cases. Are preservative-free eye drops the best option? Preservative-free formulations have been shown to significantly improve symptoms in patients with severe dry eye disease while showing little to no adverse effects. However, they come in single-use vials and are more expensive than multidose products. Their packaging often makes them difficult to use. This is a concern given that dry eye disease is more common in older patients. Your eye doctor can help The bottom line is that preservative-free eye drops are better for your eyes but come with some disadvantages. The best thing to do if you’re concerned about your eye health is to talk to your eye doctor. The team at Optometrists’ Clinic can help you find the best treatment. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.