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Are Eye Whitening Drops Safe?

Judging from a Google search of ‘Visine and other Eye Whiteners’ (yielding 14 pages of hits,) a lot of people have red and inflamed eyes. We Americans spend about $600 million annually on Visine, Clear Eyes and other similar eye whiteners. Are they safe and effective? The answers are complicated.

There is great interest in eye whitening for a variety of cosmetic and social reasons, (e.g., eye redness from allergies, contact lens wear, environmental irritants, excessive alcohol use, etc.) All of these products do provide temporary eye whitening. So why the concern?

Ophthalmologists are concerned about the masking of more serious eye diseases that cause redness. There are many, including infections, contact lens-related problems, inflammatory diseases and glaucoma. As a rule of thumb, any eye redness that causes pain, reduces eyesight or doesn’t resolve promptly needs medical attention and should not be self-medicated with eye whiteners.

‘Rebound’ redness is another major concern of eye whiteners. Prolonged use can cause a form of addiction whereby stopping the drops causes rebound redness worse than when the redness first started.

Lumify is a new player on the market having received FDA approval late last year. Lumify’s appeal is that it does not cause rebound redness. It actually is a spin-off of a popular glaucoma medication, which has eye whitening as a ‘side effect’. Since Lumify is a very low-dose formulation of a drug that’s been around for years, it’s unlikely to have any long-term problems. It does contain a preservative that can cause significant irritation, especially if used frequently.

The concern about masking of more serious eye disease, of course, remains the same. Ads for Lumify state the drops can be used four times a day. “However, anyone who thinks they need drops that often should first have their eyes checked by an ophthalmologist to find out what's causing the redness,” says Laurie Barber, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

November 27, 2018