Eye drops

Eye drops are used when medication needs to work directly in the eye.

Eye drops are commonly used:

  • to relieve dry eyes (called eye lubricants)
  • to treat allergy symptoms such as redness, itching and watery eyes
  • to treat eye infections — antibiotic eye drops 
  • to treat inflammed eyes — steroid eye drops
  • for glaucoma, to relieve pressure in the eye.

How to apply eye drops

To get the most benefit use the correct technique. This ensures you receive the right amount of medication. Ask your healthcare provider to show you. The following is 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.
  • Using the little finger pull down the lower eyelid.
  • Hold the bottle above your open eyelid and squeeze it so that one drop falls onto the 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 required.

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

(Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, 2014)

Applying eye drops in babies & 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 will not hurt. Some drops may sting at first, but this will go away quickly.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Shake the bottle gently.
  • Unscrew the cap.
  • For babies or small children, you can wrap them up in a blanket to keep them still.
  • Its 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 eye lid.  
  • For younger children or 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.

More about eye drops

  • Ask your pharmacist about storing the eye drops, some need to be kept in the fridge but others only need to be kept out of direct sunlight. Read the instructions on the label carefully and only put the drops in the affected eye.
  • Do not use the drops for longer than stated on the label because they can become dirty and infected quickly. Write the date you open the bottle on the label as a reminder.
  • There are 2 types of eye drops - those with preservatives and preservative-free eye drops.
    • Eye drops with preservatives discourage growth of bacteria once the bottle has been opened.  These often come in bottles that contain more than one dose (called multi-dose). In some people, the preservatives can irritate the eyes.
    • Preservative-free eye drops usually come in single-dose vials. Each vial is used once and discarded.

Learn more

How to use eye drops properly Safe Medication, US

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 14 May 2017