Joel Hunter, MD Refractive Surgeon, Hunter Vision Updated 11/24/20 12:11 PM
If you found this article by searching to find a reason for this odd phenomenon, then you probably already know this happens when you have had LASIK surgery.
Or maybe you were hoping to find out you’re not weird and thought it was worth checking to see if being able to taste a liquid that you placed in your eye is a problem.
Well, good news – it’s the opposite of a problem.
To be straightforward with you: tasting your eye drops after LASIK surgery is completely normal. But–and you have to take this to heart–you don’t have to suffer from the awful bitter taste of the eye drops. Besides, who wants to have eye drops at the back of their throat when all they want in the first place is just to restore their clear vision, right?
But why do you need eye drops after LASIK in the first place?
If you’re done with your LASIK procedure, you probably know about this. But if you’re still deciding to get one, here’s what to expect.
During the LASIK treatment, the doctor will make a small incision into the cornea. So when corneal nerves are cut, their sensitivity is reduced. The eye will eventually have less signal for tear production. This is what leads to temporary (the nerves regrow) dry eyes, which can be managed by regular lubrication through your prescribed eye drops.
It’s a common experience among patients according to research from the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, most especially among women and patients that need higher correction for their refractive issue as presented in the European Journal of Ophthalmology.
If you don’t manage it well, you’re likely to experience discomfort and may regret how you handled your LASIK. With the eye drops, which include antibiotics, you not only keep your eyes moist but also prevent infection from occurring.
As a side note, you may also be asked to eat food rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as mackerel, tuna, salmon or nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseed. Most of the time, it is easier to skip the diet change and add an omega-3 supplement to your day.
In most post-LASIK cases, the first six hours would have mild discomfort brought about by dry eyes. But don’t worry. The symptoms will gradually lessen; studies indicate that corneal sensitivity will be back at “normal” level at around six months after LASIK. This has not reduced the favorable opinion among patients about their LASIK experience though. A comprehensive literature review of LASIK surgery studies that appeared in the journal, Ophthalmology, reports that 95.4 percent of 2,198 subjects rated their experience with high satisfaction.
So, you see, dry eye symptoms that make your eyes itchy and scratchy (and in some cases sore and somewhat “sandy”) are usually temporary and can best be managed with eye drops.
What’s in your eye drops
Before we figure out why you can taste your eye drops, it’s necessary to realize what your eye drops contain that makes it “safe” when it reaches at the back of your throat. Because you’ve just gone through the whole LASIK experience, the type of eye drops for your post-treatment will be prescribed by your doctor instead of OTC drops.
It’s also important to tell your doctor if you have allergies that may develop from drops with preservatives. Studies have shown that these may contribute to toxic effects that lead to damage of the cornea and the conjunctiva. British medical researchers from Moorfields Eye Hospital found out that certain topical medications contributed to inflammation on the front surface with dry eyes. Long-term use of these eye drops that contain benzalkonium chloride (BAK) was also determined to cause discomfort as well as tear film instability according to other studies.
Eye drops without preservatives are, of course, a safer choice. The letdown, however, is that they cost relatively more. Still, the brilliant folks from the University of Miami School of Medicine discovered that preservative-free eye drops should be more encouraged among post-LASIK patients. So, if you get to taste them, don’t worry too much about it. At least, you’re not getting any preservatives even if you’re not hypersensitive about it, right?
Then again, your eye doctor would be the best person to prescribe you with what eye drops suit your condition.
The eye drainage system
The opposite of a problem is a solution (in case you need some reminder about it). And that’s what the drainage system is for the surface of your eye. It is a solution to the issue of what to do with the tears constantly being produced to keep your eye’s surface nice and glossy. Ever see a baby with a blocked tear duct? No? Okay, I wasn’t sure if that just seemed common to me because I’m an eye doctor.
When an infant has a blocked tear duct, they have constant goop in their eyes. It’s a big, soupy mess. Then when the tear duct opens, usually on its own over time, their eye immediately looks great.
Our eyes need a thin film of tears. Even though it is mostly water, there are also proteins, mucus, oils, and a whole slew of ingredients that compose the tear film. When the normal flow of tears (production, coverage of the eye, drainage off the eye) gets blocked, it causes buildup.
It’d be bad enough if it just made you look like you were crying because tears were piling up and spilling over your lid. But it’s even worse, because all those other ingredients get out of whack and all the build-up looks a lot like pink eye. And everyone knows what pink eye looks like, because we all inherently know to stay far away from people who look like they have pink eye. In a way, a functioning tear drainage system is part of what lets us have friends because it keeps people from saying, “Oh gross, please don’t come near me with your eye.”
So, where do the tears drain?
They fall into a little hole in the inner corner of your eyelid called the punctum. People sometimes think that’s where tears are produced, but it’s actually where they are removed from the eye. The punctum leads to the nasolacrimal duct, and that ends up draining into your nose. Naso is medical for nose while lacrimal is medical for tears.
If you’ve ever seen the beginning part of the Disney movie “Up,” then you know what it’s like to cry during a movie. Any time you’ve cried during a movie and gotten the sniffles, those were tears you were sniffling. A big rush of tears may send some down your face, but a lot of them also flood down the nasolacrimal duct and into your nose. Then you sniff so that tears and snot don’t come out of your nose. You can see why they named it something cute like “sniffling” since it feels more emotionally fitting to say that than the tears and snot thing that I just said.
Tears get sniffed and sniffs go down the back of your throat. The air keeps moving on to your lungs, but the liquid stuff stays in your throat so that you don’t get pneumonia every time you sniff. And there, in our throat, are a bunch of taste buds. Just like the ones on our tongue! Why are there taste buds there? It beats me. They’re just bonus taste buds, and we all have them. But they answer the question that we started with at the beginning.
When a medicated eye drop lands on your eye, only 20 percent of it stays there and the rest drains out. It travels through the punctum, down the nasolacrimal duct, gets sniffed into the back of our throat, and then lands on some taste buds. And then, you can “taste” your eye drops. The bad news is, they don’t taste great. But the good news is you can rest assured you have an efficiently functioning tear drainage system, and that’s going to help you have lots of friends.
Is there a way to prevent tasting the eye drops?
The truth is, some patients just let the taste settle until it goes away. If you remain faithful to the required drops on a daily basis, you might get used to the taste, like people sometimes do when they force themselves to eat kale.
But if the taste really bothers you and you really don’t have a choice but to continue your medication, here are some tips to get that awful, funky taste off your throat.
There’s a method called punctal occlusion, which can help slowdown or prevent the draining done by your nasolacrimal duct. Before using your eye drops, always wash your hands to avoid dirt and germs from coming into contact with your eye. Pull down the lower lid and then place the drop in the pocket. Press the bony structure between your eye and nose bridge. Then, gently apply light pressure with your finger in that spot. Do this for about a minute until you feel that the medication has already settled.
Another solution is made by inserting punctal plug (also known as lacrimal plug or tear duct plug). It’s a tiny biocompatible medical device (something that’s not harmful to living tissues and used in surgical implants) that is inserted in the tear duct. It’s commonly used by doctors to prevent dry eyes as proven in this study by Japanese researchers (although there are studies that find no difference on its effect compared to other methods).
But would it work against draining the eye drops? Well, the procedure was performed by doctors on a patient who complained about her irritated throat brought about by the eye drops for her post-cataract surgery care. Having the punctal plugs, according to her report, prevented her from tasting the eye drops anymore.
And then there are practical solutions you can try too. For example, you can gargle or rinse your mouth with water. Brushing your teeth is another solution (although I don’t have to remind you to do this at least twice a day) not to mention regular flossing and rinsing.
You may also choose to drink more liquid to flush out the taste or have a palate cleanser to get rid of the lingering taste. I suggest you emulate the French by eating sorbet infused with a shot of Calvados or the Italians by having green salad between the main and final courses.
Okay… but if we’re being realistic here, you may opt to have parsley, pickled ginger (a favorite among Japanese), apples, celery sticks, mint tea or citrus water as alternatives.
More about LASIK
Now that you know it’s completely normal to taste your eye drops, there’s no need to worry, well, except when you can’t stand the taste anymore. In such cases, there are remedies that may help alleviate the problem.
If you decide to get LASIK treatment, I suggest you read more about the treatment to acquaint yourself with the procedure. Among the topics I encourage you to read include:
LASIK Cost in Orlando, Florida
The long-term benefits and relative advantage of LASIK over other treatments definitely outweigh the financial costs. No doubt that it is a great personal investment but paying out-of-pocket is something that's far from your mind when managing costs.
The good news, however, is that eye surgery cost in Orlando, Florida is now more affordable with a payment plan tailored to your tight budget.
At Hunter Vision, we fully understand the value of taking care of your eyes with or without expensive treatment procedures. You get expert care from one of Florida's best eye doctors BUT without asking you to dig a hole in your pocket through our payment plan.
Your eyes are too important to try to save a few dollars. Go somewhere that charges enough for you to be comfortable throughout the process.
Most of our patients pay a bit over $130 per month at 0% interest for 24 months to change their whole world. I’d love to see you here, but I care way more than the place you choose is giving you all you deserve. “You get what you pay for” is still a universal principle. Please save the money on something else.
AuthorJoel Hunter, MD is an Ophthalmologist, Refractive Surgeon, and the Founder of Hunter Vision, a LASIK Clinic in Orlando, Florida. A recognized and respected specialist in vision correction who has performed a countless number of refractive surgeries, Joel gives lectures across the country and trains fellow doctors in the newest LASIK surgery techniques.