Eye Care

The subtle science of artificial tears

If you’ve ever wondered why there can’t just be one type of artificial tears that comes in a big bottle labeled “Fake Tears,” this article is for you.

Joel Hunter, MD
Joel Hunter, MD
Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 05/08/17 2:33 PM


I don’t think think the subject of artificial tears is boring, because there is actually a lot of really interesting science behind why different artificial tears do different things. That could also mean that I’m just a really boring person, but I don’t want to examine that possibility too closely because I’m afraid of what I’ll find out. I have a feeling I may uncover why my name is “accidentally” left off of many a party invitation list. It’s a shame too because I have a lot of samples of artificial tears that I could bring.

To get to the point, why are there a lot of samples of artificial tears? Why can’t there just be one type of artificial tear that comes in a big bottle labeled “Fake Tears” and then be done with it? Well, I’m glad I asked. The reason is there are different types of dry eyes and those require different types of tears. And I just wrote a bit about the different types of tears that various eye conditions require right here in the space where the sentence is, when I realized as I was writing that it was so boring that I was even bored writing it. Ever tell a story and halfway through it feel like, “Wow, even I don’t care about this and I’m the one talking”? That’s how this was.

So I’ll make two hopefully helpful points about eye care with artificial tears and call it a day:

  1. Artificial tears are better and separate from “get the red out” types of drops. Any drop that has redness relief as a feature will have a drug in it that constricts blood vessels. They work really well, but more than a few days of that and your eyes get used to it and stay red all the time. Those drops are good for family photos, mostly.
  2. Artificial tears are different than just saline. I used to just put saline in my eyes when they were dry from contacts (boooo), so I get why people like it. And honestly, if that works better for someone, then there’s no harm in it. But usually artificial tears will work better for longer because there is an ingredient that works as a lubricant. The lubricant keeps things slicked over more effectively than just balanced salt water, which is what saline is.

There’s lots more I’d be happy to tell you about tears, so if you are interested please feel free to invite me to your next party.

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