• Pain-Relieving Eye Drops

    Written By: Kierstan Boyd
    Reviewed By: Brenda Pagan-Duran MD
    Feb. 27, 2019

    What Are Pain-Relieving Eye Drops?

    Eye pain can be caused by any number of things. It is most common after having eye surgery, an eye injury, or an infection. It is also a symptom of eye allergies and occasionally dry eye. For relief and healing, your ophthalmologist can prescribe pain-relieving eye drops.

    There are generally three different types of eye drops used for pain relief. They include:

    • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): These eye drops work by reducing a substance in the body that increases the feeling of pain and causes swelling. These may be used when healing from eye surgery, injury or infection, and inflammation.
    • Corticosteroids: Like NSAIDs, corticosteroids reduce substances in the body that cause swelling and inflammation. These drugs, too, may be used when healing from eye surgery, injury or infection.
    • Local anesthetics: These numbing eye drops are given by your ophthalmologist to block the eye's nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. (Did you know that the cornea has more nerve endings than any other part of the body? That's why poking yourself in the eye hurts so much!) These are used to make eye exams more comfortable (such as when your eye pressure is measured) and to block pain during eye surgery.

    Why Can't I Get Pain-Relieving Eye Drops Over the Counter?

    Most pain-relieving eye drops are only available by prescription for a few important reasons:

    1. When you see your ophthalmologist for eye pain relief, they can find and treat the actual cause of your pain and possibly save your sight.
    2. Your ophthalmologist knows the correct type and dose of eyedrop medicine to use for your eye condition and will prescribe that specifically for you.
    3. Some eye drops can lead to more health problems. For instance, they can lead to problems with the surface of your eye, eye infection, or other complications if they are overused or used incorrectly. Your ophthalmologist will make sure you know how often to use your eye drops, and how to put them in correctly.
    4. By prescribing your pain-relieving eye drops, your doctor can monitor your eye health closely and make sure you get the eye care you need at the right time.

    When allergies or dry eyes cause stinging or burning of your eyes, some over-the-counter (no prescription required) eye drops can help. For instance, preservative-free artificial tears can be used as often as needed for relief from stinging, burning dry eyes. However, other over-the-counter drops designed to clear the red from irritated eyes can actually cause more red eye problems if used too often.

    Are Pain-Relieving Eye Drops Safe?

    Eye numbing anesthetic eye drops are only prescribed by your doctor and not available over the counter. When used under your ophthalmologist's supervision, these pain-relieving eye drops are safe.

    Eye numbing drops can have some side effects, such as:

    • causing blurry vision,
    • making you feel more sensitive to light,
    • causing tearing or red eyes,
    • making you feel a throbbing pain or stinging in your eye,
    • making your nose and sinuses feel numb when the drops slide from your eye into your sinuses.

    Using numbing eye drops too often (whether due to having frequent eye exams or using them without your doctor's supervision) can cause health problems. Be sure to let your ophthalmologist know if you are using these drops and they did not prescribe them.

    NSAIDs for eye pain are safe when used exactly how your doctor prescribes them. They can have some side effects, including:

    Corticosteroids for eye pain also are generally safe when used exactly as prescribed by your ophthalmologist. However, they usually are not intended to be used for a long time as they can cause some problems. For instance, using corticosteroid eye drops longer than recommended can make your eye pressure rise and lead to glaucoma problems. Long-term use can even lead to cataracts and possible eye infection. You may also notice a poor taste in your throat or mouth a few minutes after putting them in your eye. Your ophthalmologist will use these drops on a limited basis for eye pain relief while treating the issue causing your pain.