Are OTC Eye Drops Ok?

Eye Health

Dr S.S. Gill

Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about the dangers of eye drops bought “over-the-counter” (OTC).

Every so often I get patients walking into my consultation holding a plastic bag full of eye drops that they had bought over-the-counter and instilled in an attempt to solve an eye problem. The reality is that some of these OTC eye drops may not be as safe as they may appear to be. In fact, some of these eye drops are actually dangerous when used without supervision. A month ago, I had a phone call from a pharmacist friend of mine who sounded really distressed because a customer of his who had purchased eye drops from him without a prescription, was complaining that it had made him lose his eyesight!  It is not uncommon for Malaysians to self-medicate and purchase eye drops alongside their regular monthly vitamins. Ask any pharmacist about this and they will tell you that this is true of many Malaysians. This is because there are no proper regulatory laws in our country controlling the purchase of even prescription eye drops that in the EU or USA would require a doctor’s certification (prescription) before they can be dispensed. Let’s look at some of the possible problems of indiscriminate unsupervised usage of OTC eye drops that are available so easily in Malaysia.


Eye drops too may react with any oral medication that a person may already be taking. Some of the drug interactions with these medications may be serious resulting in changes of blood pressure, abdominal discomfort, weakness, palpitations and breathing difficulties. This is the reason that a patient is always asked about medication history before they are prescribed eye drops particularly for chronic eye diseases like glaucoma.


Some eye drops that contain steroids may make a person feel comfortable in the eyes but when used long term can cause cataract formation and also cause a potentially blinding condition called glaucoma. All such eye drops must only be instilled under supervision by a medical professional.


Eye drops too may cause eye allergies. Ironically for some individuals, they may even react adversely to the eye drops used to treat eye allergies, meaning that they may be allergic to one or more of the ingredients or even preservatives present within the eye-drop bottle.


Some manufacturers advertise that their products are able to “get the redness out of the eyes” making them look white and bright. These eye drops often contain ingredients that will constrict the blood vessels of the eye for a short time. Using these eye drops may temporarily solve the problems of a red eye but eventually can lead to more eye redness as it wears off (rebound hyperaemia). These eye drops generally do not address the underlying cause of redness.


Avoid purchase of unprescribed OTC eye drops as they may cause more harm than you may realise. Always seek professional help taking note that most eye drops require proper medical supervision when you are on them. Do not continue using unprescribed eye drops indefinitely without proper eye monitoring.

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