Using eye drops properly

When people use eye drops for the first time, they often find that it is trickier than they expected. They may not have been shown how to do it properly. Particularly older people have trouble using eye drops without any help. It is important to use them properly for two reasons:

  • So that they work well enough: if the eye drops spill out of the eye, only some of the medication will work, and the treatment will be less effective.
  • To reduce adverse effects: if you do not close your eye properly after using eye drops, some of the fluid may leak into your nose and throat. Here it could cross the mucous membranes and be absorbed into your body. This is more likely to lead to adverse effects than if the drops stay in your eye. In this way, for example, beta-blockers that are used to treat glaucoma might affect your cardiovascular system and breathing.

If you are unsure about how to use eye drops properly, please do not hesitate to ask your doctor or another person to explain how best to use them.

Depending on the type of eye drops you use, there may be certain things you have to keep in mind. You can find out if that is the case by talking to your doctor or pharmacist, or reading the package insert. The following steps are generally recommended:

  • Wash your hands before using eye drops, to prevent dirt or germs from getting into your eye.
  • Remove contact lenses beforehand and only put them back into your eye at least 15 minutes after using eye drops.
  • Tilt your head back and gently pull your lower eyelid down. Look up.
  • Hold the bottle close to your eye, but do not let it touch your eye.
  • Squeeze the eye drops into your lower eyelid, again without touching your eye.
  • Let go of your eyelid and close your eyes (do not squeeze them shut).
  • To prevent eye drops from leaking into your nose and throat, gently apply pressure to the inner corner of your eye.
  • Keep your eyes shut for about one to three minutes. The exact amount of time will depend on the medication you are using. You will find more information about this in the package insert.
  • Try using eye drops while sitting and while lying down, to see whether it is easier for you to apply eye drops in either position.
Tips for applying eye drops

If you would like to use other eye drops too: wait about ten minutes between each application. Ask your eye doctor which eye drops you should use first. Also, check the expiration date of your eye drops, and how long they can be used after opening. Many eye drops are supposed to be used up within four weeks of opening.

Andreae S. Lexikon der Krankheiten und Untersuchungen. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2008.

Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Jameson JL, Loscalzo J. Harrison’s Principles of internal medicine. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies. 18th ed; 2011.

Pschyrembel W. Klinisches Wörterbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter; 2014.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on December 7, 2020
Next planned update: 2022

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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