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How Often Should You Use Eye Drops for Dry Eye?

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Close up of blurred women in background holding eye drop for her dry eye

If your eyes feel irritated, scratchy, or sore, you could be living with the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eye.

Dry eye disease is a common and often chronic eye condition, but the good news is there’s a multitude of solutions to bring you long-lasting relief. One solution is eye drops to help maintain the moisture in your eye.

It’s important to talk to your eye doctor about any eye drops you’re using to ensure they’re safe and effective for your unique eyes. Properly treating your dry eyes is important to avoid long-term effects on your overall eye health.

Let’s dive into what dry eye is, how eye drops help, and how often you should use eye drops for relief.

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye occurs when your eyes aren’t producing enough tears, or the quality of your tears is inadequate. Your tears are essential for maintaining moisture and lubrication on the surface of your eye. When the quality or quantity of your tears is affected, you can experience discomfort.

The Quality of Your Tears

Your tears are more than just a watery solution. The tear film is made up of 3 layers to protect your eye:

  1. The outer oily layer is produced by the meibomian glands and is responsible for keeping the surface of your eye smooth and preventing tears from evaporating too quickly.
  2. The middle watery layer is produced by the lacrimal glands and is responsible for protecting the cornea, washing away debris, and hydrating the eye.
  3. The inner mucus layer is produced by cells in the conjunctiva and is responsible for making your tears stick to your eye. 

Each layer has an important function. If any of the 3 layers is affected, the quality of your tears is affected as well.

Causes of Dry Eye

Dry eyes can develop for several different reasons. Causes of dry eye can include:

Signs & Symptoms of Dry Eye

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to talk to your doctor about dry eye treatment options.

  • Eye redness
  • Burning or stinging sensation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stringy mucus around the eye
  • Blurry vision
  • Watery eyes due to lack of moisture

Stop uncomfortable dry eye symptoms in their tracks with effective solutions, including eye drops.

Women sitting on couch of living room and applying eye drops to her eye due to dry eye she is having

How Can Eye Drops Help?

When your eyes are irritated, the first thing you might reach for is over-the-counter eye drops. Eye drops, also known as artificial tears, can help lubricate and moisturize your eyes when your tears cannot do the job.

There is a wide range of artificial tears out there, so you may be asking yourself: which option is best for my dry eye? To avoid being overwhelmed in the aisles of your local pharmacy, have a conversation with your eye doctor to find the drops right for you. 

Types of Eye Drops & How Often to Use Them

We can break down the types of eye drops into a couple different categories: over-the-counter vs. prescription and preservative vs. non-preservative. How often you should use eye drops for relief will depend on the type of artificial tears you use.

Over-the-Counter Eye Drops

Over-the-counter eye drops are an effective way to get temporary relief from dry eye symptoms. These brands are available without a prescription from your eye doctor. How often you should use over-the-counter drops can depend on the viscosity

Low-viscosity drops can generally be used as often as you need with little to no blurring of your vision. High-viscosity drops are thicker and provide long-lasting moisture. It may be recommended to use these drops only at night because the thickness can blur vision.

You should note that artificial tears are not a solution to the cause of your dry eye, only a method to treat the symptoms. If you’re relying heavily on your eye drops for relief, it may be time for an eye exam to get to the root of the problem.

It can take a few attempts to find the best artificial tears brand to suit your needs. Make sure to follow your eye doctor’s recommendations when it comes to daily use, and follow the directions outlined on the label.

Prescription Eye Drops

Prescription eye drops contain medication to help treat your dry eyes. There are 2 popular types of prescription eye drops:

  1. Restasis — used to reduce inflammation and help your body produce more natural tears
  2. Xiidra —  used to reduce inflammation associated with dry eye symptoms

The recommended dose for these prescriptions is generally twice a day, 12 hours apart. Again, it’s important to follow the instructions given to you by your eye doctor to achieve the best results.


Eye drops can contain preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria and give the product a longer shelf life. Sometimes these chemicals can irritate your eyes. 

If you use eye drops containing preservatives, you shouldn’t exceed 4 doses a day. Talk to your eye doctor if your symptoms are not relieved in 4 doses. We may recommend switching to a non-preservative eye drop or giving you a prescription.


Non-preservative eye drops come without the chemical used to prolong shelf life. These drops are often found in single-use vials and should be thrown out within 24 hours to avoid contamination. 

Get Relief 

There is no doubt eye drops help reduce your uncomfortable dry eye symptoms, but it’s important to treat the underlying cause. 

If you think you are relying too heavily on artificial tears or haven’t found the right brand, our team at EyeZone Nevada will be happy to provide an individualized treatment plan..

You should be following the recommended daily dose as indicated by your eye doctor or eye drop label. Make sure you know if the drops you are using are prescription, over-the-counter, or contain preservatives. 

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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