Eye drops

Eye drops are used when medicine needs to work directly in your eye.

Eye drops are commonly used to relieve dry eyes, treat eye allergies (symptoms such as redness, itching and watery eyes), treat eye infections (antibiotic eye drops), treat inflammed eyes (steroid eye drops) or for glaucoma, to relieve pressure in the eye.

On this page, you can find the following information:

Tips when using eye drops

  • Apply gentle pressure to your tear duct: Immediately after putting in the eye drops, apply gentle pressure to the tear duct, where your eyelid meets your nose. Hold the tear ducts closed for 1 or 2 minutes before opening your eyes. This will give the drop time to be absorbed by the your , instead of draining into your nose.
  • Contact lens: Do not use eye drops while you are wearing contact lenses. Remove contact lenses before use and do not replace until 15 minutes after using the drops. For some eye drops, it is best to avoid wearing contact lenses during treatment. Check with your pharmacist or optometrist. 
  • Using more than one eye medicine: Use different eye drops at least 5 minutes apart. If you are using both drops and eye ointment in the same eye, always use the drops first and wait 5 minutes before applying the ointment.
  • Avoid contamination: Take care not to touch your eyelids or surrounding areas with the dropper tip of the bottle. Keep the eye drop bottle tightly closed when not in use.

How to apply eye drops

To get the most benefit, you need to use the correct technique. This makes sure you get the right amount of medicine. Ask your healthcare provider to show you. The following steps are a guide: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Shake the bottle gently.
  • Unscrew the cap.
  • Tilt your head back and look at the ceiling – you can sit or stand.
  • Hold the bottle between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Bring the bottle up to your eye.
  • Pull down your lower eyelid with your little finger.
  • Hold the bottle above your open eyelid and squeeze it so that 1 drop falls onto your eye.
  • If the eye drop makes it into your eye, let go of your eyelid and close your eye.
  • Repeat on the other eye, if needed.

If you can’t put the drops in yourself, ask a family/whānau member or friend to help you. Let your doctor know if it is too difficult.

(Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, UK, 2014)

Using eye drops in babies and children

Applying eye drops in babies and children can be tricky because they wriggle. You may need help from another adult. The following steps are a guide:

  • Reassure your child that this may feel a bit uncomfortable but it won't hurt. Some drops may sting at first, but this goes away quickly.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Shake the bottle gently.
  • Unscrew the cap.
  • You can wrap babies and small children up in a blanket to keep them still.
  • It's best if your child is lying down. 
  • Gently lower the eye lid and squeeze the bottle so that 1 drop falls into the pocket between the eye and eyelid.  
  • For younger children and babies, place the eye drop into the inner corner of the eye.
  • Don't let the tip of the bottle touch the eye.
  • Ask your child to keep their eye closed for as long as they can — 5 seconds if possible.
  • If your child needs the drops in both eyes, repeat in the other eye.  
  • Wash your hands again. 

For more detailed information see How to give medicines: eye drops Medicines for Children, UK.

Storing your eye drops and expiry dates

Storing your eye drops

Ask your pharmacist about how to store your eye drops. Some eye drops need to be kept in the fridge, while others can be kept at room temperature out of direct sunlight. 

Expiry dates

There are 2 types of eye drops: eye drops with preservatives and preservative-free eye drops.

  • Eye drops with preservatives: These often come in bottles that contain more than 1 dose (called multi-dose). Preservatives discourage growth of bacteria after the bottle has been opened. After opening the bottle, however, the preservative can only ensure the drops are safe for a limited time (usually 28 days). After this, using the drops can cause serious damage to your eye, as bacteria may have been introduced. The preservatives can irritate some people's eyes and you may be prescribed a preservative-free eye drops.
  • Eye drops without preservatives: Preservative-free eye drops usually come in single-dose vials. Each vial is used once and discarded.

All eye drops have an expiry date for use after opening. This is the length of time it is effective and safe to use them. Always record the date you open your eye drops and don't use them for longer than the expiry date because they can become contaminated quickly. This is often 28 days, although some have longer expiry dates after opening. Always check the packet or ask your pharmacist.

Learn more

How to use eye drops properly Safe Medication, US

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 19 Apr 2021