These drops belong to a group of drugs called vasoconstrictors, which cause the blood vessels in the eye to shrink and reduce redness. Sounds pretty good if you wake up and you don’t want to look like you had way too much fun last night. But what you might not know is that unintentional abuse of these drops can lead to unintended consequences.
Contact lens wearers, especially those who sleep in their lenses should not use vasoconstrictors because narrower blood vessels carry less oxygen through the blood stream. Many contact lenses already reduce oxygen transmission to the eye, so long term use could eventually drive you out of contact lenses all together.
Excessive drops can cause pupil dilation, which can increase light sensitivity and freak out most of the people around you who think you might have a brain tumor. I’ve seen enough of these patients over the years (who have doused their eyes with a vasoconstrictor), that I know to ask about eye drop use as the very first question.
And finally there is actually a “rebound redness” that can occur as your eyes become accustomed to the drop. Your eyes will actually become redder with continued use.
But the main take home message from this post is this: If your eyes are red, there’s always an underlying reason or reasons. And virtually all of those reasons are treatable, whether it’s dry eye, allergies, or infection. I would rather my patients start with a good artificial tear drop like Systane or Theratears. This may be enough to wash out the irritant that’s causing the redness. If that doesn’t work, you can always call your friendly neighborhood eye doctor’s office…