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Why “Get the Red Out” should actually be “Throw Those Drops Out”

By Dr. Roxanna Potter FLT News Columnist – Widely advertised and trusted by consumers, “get the red out” eye drops bring more harm than good to our eyes. Brand name drops like Visine and Clear Eyes are not the safe, harmless treatments for red eye relief that many people believe they are.

The active ingredient in these drops is a chemical known as a vasoconstrictor. These drugs function by contracting the muscular tissue in the blood vessel walls, causing the vessel to narrow and look smaller. This also reduces blood flow to the tissue that the blood vessel is feeding. In the eye, this makes the blood vessels that feed the surface of the eye tighter and narrower, which in turn makes the eye look whiter.

Unfortunately, whiter eyes do not necessarily mean healthier eyes. Vasoconstrictor drops usually cause stinging and burning upon instillation, and they can also cause rebound redness when they wear off. This is when a contracted blood vessel relaxes and looks bigger and redder than it was even to begin with.

After repeated constriction and relaxation, vessels can become weak and redness becomes chronic, leading patients to use more and more drops—not unlike an addiction. Additionally, decreased blood flow also deprives the eye of oxygen, which can be especially detrimental to contact lens wearers who are already reducing oxygen exposure by wearing contacts.

If accidentally ingested, vasoconstrictors can cause serious systemic side effects like difficulty breathing, abrupt changes in blood pressure, hypothermia, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and even coma and/or death, particularly in small children. I believe these drops have no place in anyone’s medicine cabinet.

Lastly, if you have red eyes, it’s likely that there is an underlying cause that should be treated. Occasional redness may be due to fatigue, allergies or dry eyes, but ongoing redness is usually a signal of underlying eye pathology. If there is a more serious underlying condition, constricting blood flow may do more harm than good. If your eyes are persistently red, don’t reach for Visine, instead reach for the phone and call your eye doctor. He or she can certainly recommend a better treatment option to “get the red out.”