How Do Ophthalmic Lubricants Work?

Reviewed on 6/23/2021

What are ophthalmic lubricants and how do they work?

Ophthalmic lubricants are medications that lubricate the eye surface and keep it moist. Most ophthalmic lubricants are artificial tears, which have a combination of ingredients that work similarly to natural tears. Several types of ophthalmic lubricants with different combinations of lubricating substances are available over the counter and on prescription.

Some ophthalmic lubricants are also antiseptic solutions that are antimicrobial and reduce the risk of infection. Some ophthalmic lubricants have medications that constrict blood vessels and reduce redness in the eye, or zinc sulfate, an astringent that dries the mucus and relieves eye irritation.

How are ophthalmic lubricants used?

Ophthalmic lubricants are topically administered on the eye surface and are available in several forms such as:

  • Solutions
  • Ointments
  • Emulsions
  • Gel drops
  • Spray solutions
  • Ophthalmic insert

Ophthalmic lubricants may be used occasionally or regularly depending on the cause of dry eyes. Ophthalmic lubricants may be used:

  • For temporary relief from burning and irritation due to:
    • Wind and sun
    • Heating or air-conditioning
    • Computer use and reading
  • Regularly to protect the eye from dryness and irritation due to:
    • Certain medical conditions
    • Medications
    • Aging
  • To relieve ocular redness and irritation
  • For symptom relief in moderate to severe dry eye syndromes such as keratoconjunctivitis sicca
Preservative-free ophthalmic lubricants are a suitable option for people who are hypersensitive to preservative substances which are often added to ophthalmic lubricants. Preservative-free ophthalmic lubricants come in single-use vials and are more expensive, but are a safer option for people with severe dry eye syndrome or those who use eye drops several times a day.

What are side effects of ophthalmic lubricants?

Side effects of ophthalmic lubricants may include:

Ocular side effects:

Systemic side effects:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.


Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis) Symptoms, Causes, Treatments See Slideshow

What are names of some ophthalmic lubricant drugs?

Generic and brand name of some ophthalmic lubricant drugs include:

  • Carboxymethylcellulose ophthalmic (TheraTears Nighttime Dry Eye Therapy, Refresh Optive Gel Drops)
  • Hydroxyethyl cellulose ophthalmic (Rohto Hydra)
  • Hypromellose/carboxymethylcellulose ophthalmic (Genteal Lubricant Eye Drops)
  • Hydroxypropyl cellulose ophthalmic (Lacrisert)
  • Mineral oil/petrolatum ophthalmic (Systane Nighttime Lubricant Eye Ointment)
  • Polyethylene glycol 400/propylene glycol ophthalmic (Systane Gel Drops, Systane Preservative-Free, Systane Ultra)
  • Povidone ophthalmic (Soothe Hydration Lubricant Eye Drops)
  • Propylene glycol ophthalmic (Systane Balance)
  • Tetrahydrozoline/zinc sulfate/Hypromellose ophthalmic (Rohto Ice, Rohto Relief)
  • Artificial tears spray solution with retinyl palmitate/tocopheryl acetate/magenesium ascorbyl phosphate/polysorbate 80/sodium chloride/sodium hydroxide/phenoxyethanol/alcohol/disodium EDTA/PEG-12/glyceryl
  • Artificial tears solutions, gels, ointments and emulsions (Tears Naturale, Isopto Tears, Bion Tears, LubriTears, Refresh Celluvisc, Bausch and Lomb Advanced Eye Relief, Visine Tears Dry Eye Relief, Lacrilube, Liquifilm Tears, Lacril, Minims Artificial Tears)
  • Artificial tears are formulations of one or more lubricating substances in different concentrations. Artificial tears ingredients may include the following:
  • Glycerin
  • Propylene glycol
  • Polyvinyl alcohol
  • Polyvinylpyrrolidone (Povidone)
  • Dextran 70
  • Polyethylene glycol 400
  • Methylcellulose 2910
  • Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose 2901
  • Polysorbate 80
  • White petrolatum
  • Mineral oil
  • Anhydrous liquid lanolin
  • Hypromellose
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Sodium perborate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Sodium borate
  • Sodium chlorite
  • Sodium hyaluronate
  • Potassium chloride
  • Carboxymethylcellulose

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