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What preservatives are in artificial tears?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Many artificial tear products contain preservatives to keep them sterile and prevent eye infections. But the preservatives can irritate the eyes, especially if the eyedrops are used more than 4 to 6 times a day. For people who use artificial tears often or have burning or discomfort after applying them, preservative-free formulas are available. These are usually packaged in single-dose containers, and are usually more costly.

Preservatives used in artificial tear products include benzalkonium chloride, sodium perborate, chlorobutanol, stabilized oxyborate complex (Dissipate), phosphoric acid, and polyquaternium-I. Benzalkonium chloride is the most effective at preventing germs. But it has also been shown to damage the eye surface and make the tear film weak. 

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