Choosing the right eye treatment for your eye condition

Posted on 12 July 2022

Artificial tears. Allergy eye drops. Drops for red eyes. It really is enough to make you rub your eyes in confusion!

Eye drops can help relieve lots of different eye problems.  But, as you will see if you go to buy some, there are also lots of different drops to choose from. So, just how do you know which one is best for you?

Here, we give you a beginner’s guide to choosing eye drops.  We’ll look at the different types, when to use them and what to watch out for. Read on to find out how to shop for your drops!

Top tip

Why not try applying your eye drops when in bed? It sounds odd (and perhaps even a tad lazy) but you may find it easier to keep your head tilted backwards when lying down, especially if you are a bit wobbly.

Different types of eye drops

Eye drops come in lots of different bottles and brands, but they can pretty much be divided into three main types:1

  • Artificial tears
  • Allergy drops
  • Anti-redness drops

It’s important that you choose the right drops to match your eye condition.  The wrong eye drops won’t just be a waste of money, they might also make your symptoms worse.1

What are artificial tears and when to use them

Artificial tears are the go-to drops for dry eyes.  Dry eyes are very common – up to 100 million people globally are thought to be affected2, including 1 in 4 in the UK.3

The signs and symptoms of dry eye usually affect both eyes and can include:4

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • A burning sensation
  • Watery eyes
  • Heavy feeling eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • A gritty feeling
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye strain

Like the name suggests, dry eyes occur when the eyes are drier than they should be. This could be because they aren’t making enough tears or the tears they are making are evaporating too quickly.5

Artificial tears, which are also known as lubricating eye drops, contain a mixture of ingredients that are designed to mimic real tears and make your eyes moist and comfortable.

Eye drops, such as Cationorm®, can replenish your body’s supply of tears, rehydrate and quickly relieve discomfort, particularly if your symptoms are mild.

If your symptoms are more severe, or persist, other treatment options include lubricating gels and ointments.  These are a bit thicker than normal drops and can make your vision blurry for a bit, so most people put them in at night, just before going to bed.6

Are preservative-free eye drops better?

Some eye drops contain preservatives to prolong their shelf-life once they are opened.  Many people find these chemicals irritate their eyes, especially if they have more severe dry eye, and so many eye doctors recommend not using drops with preservatives more than four times a day.6  Preservative-free drops often come in single-dose vials, rather than bottles, to keep them fresh and bug-free.  You simply snap off the lid, pop in your drops as usual and throw away the vial.

Can I use contact lens solution as eye drops for dry eyes?

This is definitely very tempting (hands up if you’ve thought of it!) but it’s not a good idea. The ingredients that rid your lenses of grime and bacteria, leaving them squeaky clean, and the preservatives that extend the solution’s shelf life, might make your eyes red and irritated.7

Fun fact

You don’t just make tears when we are sad, we make them in small quantities all the time to help you see clearly and keep your eyes healthy.  In fact, your eyes are so busy making tears that if you could put a year’s tears together, there would be 15 to 30 gallons!8

What are allergy drops and when to use them

These are used to calm eyes left red, itchy and annoyingly watery by hay fever and other allergies, from hairy hounds and furry felines to dust and mould.

Some allergy drops are known as antihistamine drops. This is because their key ingredient is an antihistamine – a drug that blocks histamine, a chemical that is made by the body and is behind many of the symptoms of allergies, including red and itchy eyes.1

You might also come across allergy drops called mast-cell stabilisers. These stop the body from making histamine in the first place but take a bit longer to get to work.9

What to watch out for

It’s important to work out what’s making your eyes red and itchy – whether you have an allergy or if you have dry eye. This is because antihistamine drops designed to treat hay fever eyes can actually make dry eye worse.10

Top tip

If you keep forgetting to put in your eye drops, try making them part of your daily routine by, for instance, putting them in just after doing your teeth.  Setting an alarm on your phone might also help.

What are anti-redness drops and when to use them

These drops are designed to make red eyes clear and sparkling again.  Also known as decongestant drops or whitening drops, they shrink the tiny blood vessels on the white of your eye.1 This stops the from carrying as much blood – and so your eyes look less red.

What to watch out for

These drops can help make your eyes white again but, take care, because used for more than a few days, they can irritate your eyes.1 There’s also something called the rebound effect. If you use them a lot, the tiny blood vessels we mentioned earlier can enlarge and, when you stop using the drops, your eyes are redder than ever.11  This might send you reaching for your drops again –  and again and again.

If you do need to use anti-redness drops, say before an important meeting or to look your best for a special photo, then don’t use them for more than 72 hours.11

Eye drops for contact lenses

If you wear contact lenses, there’s a bit more to think about. Not all types of eye drop work well with contacts. If in doubt, ask your optician for advice.

Can I use dry eye drops with contact lenses?

Not all drops for dry eye are suitable for contact lens-wearers. Some are thicker than others and cloud your vision or damage your contacts.7

Can I use anti-redness drops with contact lenses?

Anti-redness drops can leave deposits on the surface of contact lenses, making them cloudy and they shouldn’t be used with contacts.12

Can I use allergy eye drops with contact lenses?

Eye drops for hay fever and other allergies are normally safe to use with contact lenses. Put your drops in 15 minutes before your lenses – to give the medicine time to be absorbed by your eyes.13

Can I use rewetting eye drops with contact lenses?

Now you are talking! Rewetting eye drops are specifically designed to be used with different types of contact lenses. Usually found next to the lens cleaning solution on shop shelves, they moisten the eye and can also hydrate the contact lens, making it more comfortable to wear.12


Always read the instructions for your eye drops, to ensure you are using them correctly.

When to see a doctor

When your eyes are red, dry or itchy, eye drops will often provide the relief you they are craving. But, if your symptoms don’t start clear up after a few days, ask your optician, ophthalmologist, GP or pharmacist for help. Also speak to them if the drops you are using seem to be making your condition worse or if they affect your vision.1

Eye drops for other conditions

Some of the other eye problems which can be treated with eye drops include:


Conjunctivitis – pronounced con*junk*tiv*eye*tiss – occurs when the conjunctiva, the lining of the eyelid and the white of the eye, becomes inflamed, usually due to a bacterial or viral infection. It can be very contagious and spread easily from person to person but usually isn’t serious.

It’s also known as pink eye (because it can make your eyes look bloodshot) and the treatment depends on the cause.  The good news is that it usually gets better within a couple of weeks without treatment. If it’s severe, though, your doctor can prescribe something to clear up an infection.14


Blepharitis (go on, give it a go – bleh*fuh*rai*tus!) sounds fancy but it is simply red and swollen eyelids.  It’s very common and can be uncomfortable but usually isn’t serious.15  Treatment is focused on keeping your eyes clean but, depending on what’s caused your blepharitis, your doctor might recommend artificial tears or antibiotic or other eye drops.16

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis, which thankfully is usually referred to as plain old VKC, is a bit like eczema of the eyes.  Where eczema affects the skin, VKC makes the outer protective layer of the eyes itchy and swollen.17

Treatments such as medicated eye drops and other medicines can help prevent flare-ups, relieve symptoms and prevent damage to your vision.18 Your doctor will decide on the best treatment for you, depending on how bad your symptoms are.

Cationorm logo

Cationorm® is a first-of-a-kind eye drop that acts like the body’s natural tears to provide long-lasting relief from the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eyes.

Unlike traditional eye drops which may wash away quickly, Cationorm® uses ionic technology to attract its positively charged solution to the negatively charged surface of the eye, locking in hydration for longer.

Kind to even sensitive eyes, Cationorm® is preservative free and is suitable for everyday use and for contact lens wearers. Always read the label.

Try new cationorm®
Cationorm pack shot

Learn more

What are dry eyes?

Find out about common symptoms and if you could be at risk.

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Common triggers of dry eye

Find out what lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent dry eyes, from desktop, to dinnertime.

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