Learn more about how prescription and over-the-counter medicine can impact eye health

There are a number of common prescription medications as well as over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can adversely impact your eye health. This can inadvertently cause problems ranging from dry eyes and fluctuating vision to an increase in intraocular eye pressure (IOP) and glaucoma. Although these adverse effects are often not at the top of the side-effect list of these medications, they are commonly experienced and can be addressed in a yearly eye exam.

When filling out registration forms, patients often omit OTC medications, such as those used daily to manage pain or allergies like ibuprofen, naproxen, acetaminophen, aspirin, and antihistamines. Unfortunately, they could actually be the underlying cause of a patient’s dryness and fluctuating vision. Therefore, in our practice, we also verbally ask if patients are currently taking any additional OTC medications.

In the case of dry eyes, simple diet and lifestyle changes can improve the quality and production of healthy tears. We first recommend an increase in daily water intake and a decrease in caffeinated drinks. Many tend to reach for soda, energy drinks, coffee and tea instead of water when they are thirsty. These types of drinks can contain caffeine which could cause dehydration. We also recommend adding daily supplements of omega-3 to their diet in the form of fish oil or flaxseed oil. Omega-3 helps the body produce more lubricating tears which can help to reduce the sensation of dryness in the eyes. Some medications, like those used to help bladder control or treat benign prostate hyperplasia, can have more serious side effects like increasing one’s IOP. If the increase in IOP is severe enough and/or persists over a long period of time, glaucoma (which is an eye disease that can lead to blindness) can be a concern.

Another example is OTC steroid nasal sprays used to treat allergies. A small percentage of users may experience an increase in IOP due to steroid use which can result in steroid induced glaucoma. A slight elevation in IOP is often asymptomatic and can go undetected for many years if one is not conscientious about their annual appointment with their optometrist. Sometimes, the benefits of using these medications outweigh the risks and consequences. In these situations, we closely monitor IOP and/or prescribe medications to counteract the increase in IOP.

Certain anti-hypertensive medications and diuretics can cause ocular side effects such as dry eyes. In addition to the recommendations mentioned above, artificial tears and/or punctum plugs (which are fitted into the tear ducts to help block drainage) can provide symptomatic relief. If all else fails, we can prescribe medicated eye drops to help patients produce more tears.

It is usually during an annual eye exam that we discover our patients are taking new OTC medications or medications prescribed by their doctors so we highly recommend that if you have not seen your optometrist within the last year, schedule your appointment today. The problems with your vision that you may be experiencing may be directly or indirectly related to the medications you are taking.