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Can You Use Contact Lens Solution as Eye Drops?

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When you need to relieve dry eyes, you may reach for eye drops. But what if you don’t have any on hand? Can you use a contact lens solution instead? This is a common question among people who wear contact lenses, especially those who use multi-purpose solutions that claim to clean, rinse, and store lenses.

But you shouldn’t use contact solution as eye drops, even if you don’t have eye drops on hand. Although the base of many contact solutions is a saline solution, which is safe for use with eyes, contact cleaners can have other additives designed to clean and disinfect your contact lenses. It’s these additives that could lead to irritation or damage to your eye.

Eye Drops vs. Contact Solution

It’s important to understand the differences between eye drops and contact lens solutions to understand why they cannot replace one another.

Eye drops are formulated specifically for your eyes and contain ingredients to help lubricate, moisturize, reduce redness, or treat inflammation and infection. Some eye drops are also preservative-free to minimize irritation or allergic reactions.

On the other hand, contact lens solution is designed to clean and disinfect contact lenses and may contain various chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide, borate, and polyethylene glycol. Contact lens solution is not intended to be used directly in the eyes, although it may be used to rinse lenses before insertion into the eyes.

Why Can’t You Use Contact Lens Solution as Eye Drops?

Contact lens solutions and many eye drops may seem like similar products—but they are not interchangeable.

Contact lens solution may contain chemicals that are not safe for direct exposure to the eyes, such as hydrogen peroxide or other disinfectants. In addition, contact lens solution is not formulated to relieve dryness, redness, or other eye problems. If you use contact lens solution as eye drops, you may experience discomfort, irritation, or even damage to your tear film.

Can You Use Eye Drops as a Contact Lens Solution?

What about if you run out of contact lens solution? You may be wondering if you can use eye drops to store your contacts. The answer is, again, no. 

Eye drops are designed to increase comfort, reduce inflammation, or fight infection. They aren’t formulated to clean or disinfect contact lenses. It’s important to note that they do make eye drops that are suitable to use while wearing contacts, but these still aren’t a replacement for proper contact cleaning solution.

Which Eye Drops Should You Use?

Remember that all eye drops are not the same. You should ensure the package specifies that they are suitable for use with contact lenses if you intend to use them while wearing your contacts.

Some common eye drops you may encounter include:

  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Antihistamine eye drops
  • Antibiotic eye drops
  • Steroid eye drops

Lubricating Eye Drops

These are common eye drops and are sometimes called artificial tears. These eye drops work to rehydrate your eyes as they mimic natural tears. They are designed to address dryness, irritation, and redness due to issues like dry air, dust, or wind.

Some lubricating eye drops may be prescribed to specifically treat dry eye. These may be a thicker solution than regular eye drops and might not be suitable for use with your contacts. Discuss your options with your eye doctor to find the right eye drops for your situation.

Lubricating eye drops are available with and without preservatives. Preservative-free eye drops can be a good option for people with sensitive eyes or those who need to use them a lot, as preservatives can irritate your eyes.

Antihistamine Eye Drops

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine eye drops if you have allergies. Allergy eye drops work by blocking histamines that can trigger allergic reactions, such as irritation, redness, and puffiness. Antihistamine eye drops can work quickly but may need frequent use to maintain their effects.

Antibiotic Eye Drops

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops to fight bacteria if you have an eye infection. These eye drops can be used to treat a variety of eye infections, such as conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, and blepharitis. 

Steroid Eye Drops

Steroid eye drops are used to treat severe eye inflammation and may be prescribed by an eye doctor following surgery or to treat inflammatory eye conditions. They are designed to reduce swelling, irritation, and redness. These eye drops may have other side effects and should only be used as directed by your eye doctor.

A woman in an optical clinic shaking hands with her optometrist.

Get Eye Drop Advice from Your Eye Doctor

Eye drops and contact solution are not interchangeable, but you can get advice for using both properly from an eye doctor. So, it’s a good idea to discuss your needs with your eye doctor. We can recommend the right products to help you get relief and take care of your contacts.Call us at the Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs to discuss eye drops and schedule an eye exam. We can answer your questions and book you an appointment to discuss which eye drops you should use in more detail with one of our experienced optometrists.

Written by Dr. Sara Johnson

Dr. Sara Whitney graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry from Rockford College in Rockford, IL and received her Doctor of Optometry degree from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN. As an optometry student, Dr. Whitney completed a primary care externship in Wilmington, NC, and a hospital-based rotation at the Naval Health Clinic of Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, TX. Dr. Whitney has cared for patients as an optometrist in the Colorado Springs area since May of 2009. She has experience in family eye care, including pediatric eye examination, adult eye care, treatment and management of ocular disease, contact lens fitting, and eye surgery co-management. Colorado State licensed and certified in ocular pharmaceutical agents, Dr. Whitney’s training and experience allow her to diagnose, treat, and manage or co-manage all eye conditions. Professional memberships include the American Optometric Association, Colorado Optometric Association, and Southern Colorado Optometric Society.
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