A warning was issued this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about eyedrops linked to dangerous infections. The preservative-free dry eye treatment is also blamed for causing at least one death.
Amid growing concerns, doctors are explaining how to protect your eye health.
To avoid chemicals, many Americans reach for preservative-free artificial tears to lubricate tired, dry, itchy eyes.
"The preservatives are generally in the eye drop to keep it from having bacterial growth. But they also cause a bit of irritation to the ocular surface if they're used too often," said oculoplastic surgeon Dr. David Samimi with Dignity Health California Hospital, noting that is why they're a popular option. But this week, when the CDC issued analert linking EzriCare Artificial Tears to dangerous and potentially deadly bacterial infections, his patients had concerns.
"This particular bacteria called, Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, is one of those aggressive kinds of players. It can kind of melt through the skin of the eye and aggressively kind of eat through tissue. This kind of strain actually has resistance to a lot of the larger antibiotics that we use," he said.
The CDC identified 55 cases in 12 states, including California. At least five of them resulted in permanent vision loss and one reported death near Seattle. Manufacturers issued a voluntary recall. How the bottles got infected is under investigation, Samimi said. Yet, he said people shouldn't fear or avoid preservative-free drops. But, always practice good hygiene.
"Try and avoid having anything touch the tip of the bottle. And you can rest the bottle on the bridge of your nose. That way you're looking right at the drop," Samimi said.
Preservative-free drops have a shorter shelf life, but even the ones with chemical agents should be discarded when they expire.
"Rule of thumb would be around two to four months. After that, you probably want to discard them because they may have bacteria growing in them or the preservatives may be inactive," he said.
And while individually wrapped packets of drops can help reduce the risk of bacterial infection, check the dates because doctors say the safety and effectiveness is unknown beyond the expiration date.