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Prescription Eye Drops for Dry Eye: Brands & How They Work

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In Cochrane’s relatively dry climate, our patients are at a greater risk for dry eye syndrome. Once dry eye takes hold, it can become a delicate balancing act getting your eyes back to the moisture levels they need—and eye drops are critical parts of your optometrist’s toolbelt. Leaving dry eye alone brings much more harm than good, so it’s important to seek treatment for it no matter the level of severity.

If you’ve been diagnosed with it at an eye exam, it’s natural to want to know how you can help yourself, without upsetting the balance further. We can share a bit about the role eye drops play in providing relief and what kinds there are!

Dry Eye Disease Defined

Dry eye syndrome might fall into one of several varieties, depending on many possible causes and levels of severity. Dry eye symptoms can vary from patient to patient.

Your Cornea’s Reaction to Dry Eye

Your cornea is the top clear part of your eye, and the first part of it to direct light into your retina. Your retina is where light transfers a picture of the world around you into your brain via the optic nerve. If your cornea doesn’t get the moisture it needs, dry eye symptoms are sure to follow. It especially needs oxygenation and hydration.

Your tear film is a compound layer of mucous, water, and oil in balanced quantities. It provides the necessary oxygenation and hydration, only slowly evaporating thanks to the oil layer.

The aqueous layer provides the actual moisture and oxygen to your eye, while the mucous layer acts as a base for the water layer to build upon. But for patients with dry eye, the supply or quality of one or more parts of the tear film is insufficient.

In severe cases, the corneal surface can warp or cloud over. But first it will show signs of redness or irritation. Other symptoms can disrupt your normal vision, daily comfort, and even your contact lens wear. You may require more than just over-the-counter eye drops for relief. However, it might all depend on the type of dry eye you have. 

Evaporative Dry Eye

Evaporative dry eye (EDE) means your tears evaporate too quickly. There might be a blockage in the oil glands, sapping the surface tension and leaving moisture open to the air. It’s common to have pain or redness with evaporative dry eyes as a result of the deficiency. Your optometrist can diagnose the degree and severity of this type of dry eye, recommending an appropriate treatment. 

Aqueous Tear-Deficient Dry Eye

An overall lack of moisture in your tears can come from a variety of sources. Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye is the diagnosis when your lacrimal glands—producing your base-level of tears—falls short. Tear-deficient dry eye may be caused by: 

The type of dry eye you have certainly affects your eye doctor’s choice of eye drops.

Some Differences Between Prescription & Non-Prescription Eye Drops

Non-prescription eye drops also go by the name over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops.

If your eye doctor recommends OTC eye drops for your dry eye, chances are, they’re artificial tears. Artificial tears help many patients with aqueous tear-deficient dry eye by supplementing their tears. And while most artificial tear brands don’t require a prescription, there is actually a prescription artificial tear eye drop brand, FreshKote.

You might think that dry eye relief is as easy as applying some artificial tears, and that there’s no need for prescription eye drops. But artificial tears solve the symptom, not the cause, and they can even complicate matters.

Once the effect of artificial tears wear off, your eyes can suffer from dryness even more. Allergic reactions sometimes result as well. These eye drops have preservatives to increase their shelf life, and prescription eye drops typically lack this ingredient.

prescription eye drops grouped on white background

Prescription eye drops for dry eye may also contain steroids or antibiotics, which need to be controlled by doctors because patients are likely to get infections or eye diseases from improper use.

Lastly, prescription eye drops help with dry eye patients who might not have a problem with tear production in the lacrimal gland. For that matter, many prescription eye drops exist to treat other eye diseases that have nothing to do with dry eye—while many OTC eye drops tend to be limited to dry eye.

What’s the Difference Between Artificial Tears and Gels or Ointments?

As you can probably guess, tears are liquid, while gels and ointments are solid (at room temperature). Artificial tears are great for daytime moisturizing whereas lubricating gels and ointments—which can also sell over-the-counter—are good for overnight use.

We tend to use both for our patients depending on each unique diagnosis, because they both have a role to play in restoring balance to your tear film. 

What Are Some Popular Prescription Eye Drops for Dry Eye?

2 types of eye drops we set patients up with include over the counter and prescription options. While OTC eye drops might be the first one we try, prescription might ultimately prove a better fit.  


One thing to note about Restasis is that it can actually help your lacrimal glands produce more tears if you need it. On the other hand, if you’re taking anti-inflammatory eye drops like Xiidra, Restasis may not work as well. And, it might not be effective, maybe even extending the impact of your symptoms.


Xiidra is a prescription solution that can combat the signs and symptoms of dry eye where inflammation is the cause. It soothes inflammation on key cells located on the surface of the eye, especially the ones producing your mucous layer. The effect it has eases the impact of dry eye symptoms, resulting in a more resilient tear film.

Getting Your Prescription Can Speed Your Relief

If you think about it in medical terms, prescriptions are the best way to go. For that, you can rely on a community optometrist who can pinpoint what your issue is, and what will work to solve it. Over-the-counter artificial tears work just like a bandaid, while prescription eye drops treat the actual cause.

Prescriptions are an important part of the education and training optometrists receive, so it’s best to leverage their expertise when the root problem might be a little more complicated than just a lack of tear volume.

Your Eye Doctors Give Accurate Prescriptions

We’ve been helping patients our way for some time now, and found effective means for relieving the irritation of dry eye. We’re happy to provide well-thought out prescriptions to treat the cause—and we can provide you with a medical opinion on which OTC eye drops you can use at the same time. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out, to book an appointment, or just to talk about eye health! It’s our passion, and we’d like to hear from you.

Written by Shazeen Manji

Dr. Shazeen Manji was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, and attended the University of Alberta, where she completed her Bachelor of Science degree. She then went on to earn her optometry degree at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, where she graduated with honours. Dr. Manji received her training in a vast array of clinical settings, including private practices and Veterans Affairs hospitals, where she focused on pediatrics and contact lenses. Though she enjoys all aspects of private practice, Dr. Manji has a particular interest in ocular disease and contact lenses. She completed her ocular disease externship at the Wilmington V.A. Hospital and has completed an advanced studies course in contact lenses, giving her unique insight into fitting specialty contact lenses. In 2019, Dr. Manji purchased River Heights Eye Care where she is now practicing.
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