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Dryness can cause irritation and redness, which can lead to discomfort and make wearing contact lenses difficult. Gel eye drops lubricate the eyes and can ease dry eye symptoms.

A quick look at the 5 best gel eye drops:

Tears play an important role in keeping the eyes healthy. They protect the eyes from irritation and infection, keep the eyes moist, and help focus light so a person’s vision stays clear.

The body produces tears from glands above the eyes. The tears spread over the cornea when a person blinks, then drain into the tear ducts, which sit between the nose and the inside corners of the eyes.

Not producing enough tears is one cause of eye dryness. This issue can lead to irritation and problems with vision.

Symptoms of dry eyes include:

  • a stinging and burning sensation
  • blurry vision
  • a scratchy or gritty feeling
  • redness
  • irritation
  • strings of mucus in or around the eyes
  • excess tears, to compensate for the dryness

In addition, a person with dry eyes may have difficulty wearing contacts.

Gel eye drops can be suitable for people with dry eyes. Gel drops start off as a liquid but turn to gel when they come in contact with the eye.

There are several types of gel eye drops, such as:

  • Thermo responsive: These turn to gel when they encounter the temperature of the eyes.
  • pH responsive: These turn to gel due to a change in pH, such as when they come in contact with the neutral pH of the eyes.
  • Ion responsive: These rely on a chemical reaction when in contact with the eyes.
  • Multi-stimuli responsive: Some eye drops rely on a mix of responses to change into gel. For example, some eye drops are both heat sensitive and ion responsive.

Lubricating eye drops act like a person’s tears. They support the natural film of tears on the eye and increase moisture.

The tear film has three layers:

  1. an oily top layer that prevents tears from drying too quickly and keeps the surface of the eye smooth
  2. a watery middle layer that keeps the eyes moist
  3. a mucous inner layer that helps the tear film stay on the surface

Gel eye drops are a type of lubricating eye drops. They are thicker than liquid drops, so they may cause temporary blurring.

Some eye drops are only available by prescription. Anyone who is experiencing symptoms that do not resolve or become worse should contact a healthcare professional.

Below are some factors a person might consider before making a purchase of gel eye drops:

  • Severity of symptoms: Some gel eye drops are only suitable for mild symptoms. Others are suitable for moderate or severe ones.
  • Reason for use: It is important to use the correct type of eye drops. Anyone with questions should contact an eye care professional.
  • Frequency of use: People who use gel eye drops frequently may prefer those without preservatives to reduce eye irritation.
  • Contact lenses: Companies have made some products specifically for people who wear contact lenses.

Medical News Today chooses products that fit the following criteria:

  • Price: MNT chooses products that are suitable for a range of budgets.
  • Function: MNT selects products that are suitable for a range of people, including those who wear contact lenses.
  • Accessibility: MNT chooses products that are available to buy online and in stores.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

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Below is a list of a range of gel eye drops that are available to buy without a prescription, both online and in person.

Best for digital eyestrain: Systane Gel Drops

  • Price: $12.96
  • Advantages: long lasting gel protective shield, beneficial for extended screen use
  • Disadvantages: contains a preservative, Polyquad
  • Who it is best for: people who look at screens for long periods

According to Systane, these gel eye drops are suitable for people with dry eyes and digital eyestrain.

The company claims this product offers long lasting relief through the thick formula, which creates a gel shield on the eyes. This shield aims to protect the eyes from further dry eye symptoms.

This long lasting protection and relief from dry eyes may make this eye gel beneficial for people who look at digital screens, such as their phone or a computer, for long periods. A person can use these gel drops during the day or at night.

Systane claims these drops are easy to apply and that a person should use 1–2 drops in each eye.

Systane Gel Drops cost $12.96.

Best preservative-free eye drops: Refresh Optive Mega-3

  • Price: $19.49
  • Advantages: preservative-free, low blur formula
  • Disadvantages: unsuitable for people with flaxseed oil allergies, vials are single use
  • Who it is best for: people with meibomian gland dysfunction

These preservative-free eye drops contain omega-3 from flaxseed oil.

The company claims its product is clinically proven to relieve dry eye symptoms and symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction. In this condition, the small glands along the eyelids do not produce enough oil to coat the eye’s surface and keep tears from evaporating.

This product also uses the company’s HydroCell technology, which Refresh claims rehydrates dry cells on the eye.

A box of these eye drops contains 30 sterile, single-use vials. A person twists and pulls the tab on a vial and uses one or two drops in each eye.

Refresh Optive Mega-3 costs $19.49.

Best for severe dry eyes symptoms: GenTeal Lubricant Eye Gel

  • Price: around $11
  • Advantages: suitable for severely dry eyes
  • Disadvantages: contains the preservative Polyquad
  • Who it is best for: people with severe dry eye symptoms

These GenTeal gel eye drops are reportedly suitable for people with severely dry eyes. GenTeal claims they provide prolonged relief from dry eyes at night as well as burning and irritation. The company also states it can protect the eyes from further irritation.

According to the product labeling, a person should apply 1–2 drops to their eyes before they go to sleep.

This product may suit people whose eyes are dry at night, as GenTeal does not recommend these gel drops for the daytime.

A person can buy GenTeal Lubricant Eye Gel for around $11 online.

Best for nighttime relief: hydraSense Ultra Night for Dry Eyes

  • Price: around $27
  • Advantages: preservative-free, easy application, bottle remains sterile
  • Disadvantages: unsuitable for those allergic to sodium hyaluronate
  • Who it is best for: people who have dry eyes at nighttime

These gel drops are suitable for nighttime relief of dry eye symptoms. The company claims it provides extended nighttime protection.

This preservative-free product contains sodium hyaluronate, which the company says is a lubricant that is clinically proven to be effective. It highlights the ease of application and the sterile, multi-dose bottle. A person uses 1–2 drops in each eye as needed.

The company writes these drops are safe for people who wear contact lenses.

A person can order hydraSense Night Therapy for Dry Eyes for around $27 online.

Best for contact lens wearers: Refresh Relieva for Contacts

  • Price: $12.78
  • Advantages: helps relieve contact lens discomfort
  • Disadvantages: unsuitable for people allergic to sodium hyaluronate
  • Who it is best for: people with soft or rigid contact lenses

These eye drops are suitable for people who wear soft or rigid, gas permeable contact lenses. However, it is important to check with an eye doctor before making a purchase.

The company claims it relieves mild to moderate symptoms of eye dryness, irritation, and discomfort associated with wearing contact lenses. It also has HydroCell technology, which the company says enables hydration and maintains cell volume in the eyes.

A person applies 1–2 drops to each eye as needed. The company also says individuals can apply 1–2 drops to each side of the contact lens.

A person can buy Refresh Relieva for Contacts for $12.78.

The table below compares each product in this article.

Systane Gel DropsRefresh Optive Mega-3GenTeal Lubricant Eye GelhydraSense Ultra Night for Dry EyesRefresh Relieva for Contacts
Price$12.96$19.49around $11around $27$12.78
Advantagescreates long lasting protective gel shield• preservative-free
• low blur formula
• provides long lasting relief from symptoms
• may protect against future irritation
• preservative-free
• easy to apply
• bottle stays sterile
• helps relieve contact lens
• discomfort
sterile bottle
Disadvantagescontains a preservative• unsuitable for those allergic to flaxseed oil
• vials are single use
contains a preservativeunsuitable for those allergic to sodium hyaluronateunsuitable for those allergic to sodium hyaluronate
Who it is best forthose who frequently use screenspeople with meibomian gland dysfunction those with severe dry eyespeople who have dry eyes at nighttimepeople using soft or rigid gas permeable contact lenses

People can make several lifestyle changes to manage dry eye symptoms.

The National Eye Institute recommends:

  • avoiding smoke, wind, and air conditioning, when possible
  • using a humidifier to reduce dryness indoors
  • limiting screen time and taking regular breaks
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses when outside
  • staying hydrated
  • getting 7–8 hours of sleep every 24 hours

Some people require prescription eye drops. A healthcare professional may also recommend tear duct plugs. These can keep the eyes lubricated by preventing tears from draining into the tear ducts.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to tighten the lower eyelid.

Experts recommend a person talk with an eye doctor if they frequently experience dry eyes, as it may be a symptom of an underlying health condition. They can also contact an eye doctor if over-the-counter (OTC) treatments do not improve their symptoms.

If a person experiences an allergic reaction or irritation when using eye drops, experts recommend they rinse their eye with water and contact an eye doctor.

Symptoms of a reaction to eye drops can include:

Overusing eye drops can cause irritation. A person can follow the instructions given by the manufacturer to avoid irritation.

If someone thinks they are experiencing symptoms linked to an eye condition, such as blepharitis or glaucoma, they should contact a doctor for advice.

Below are some frequently asked questions about gel eye drops.

How often should people with dry eyes use eye drops?

The American Academy of Ophthalmology says people can use eye drops for dry eyes as frequently as they need to.

Anyone using eye drops more than four times a day may find preservative-free drops more beneficial. Preservatives can irritate the eyes over time.

How many drops should people use?

Always follow the directions on product packaging, unless a healthcare professional gives different guidance.

Typically, manufacturers recommend using 1–2 drops as needed.

When do gel eye drops expire?

Usually, gel eye drops last for up to 12 months after a person opens the bottle. However, it is a good idea to check the use-by date on the packaging.

It is also important to follow storage instructions. Storing eye drops in areas that are too hot or cold may reduce the shelf life or effectiveness of the product.

What is the difference between eye gel and eye drops?

Eye gels are similar to eye drops. However, eye gels form a thicker protective layer over the eye. This makes them more suitable for moderate to severe dry eye conditions and longer-term protection and hydration.

Dry eyes can cause irritation and redness. Dryness may interfere with vision and the ability to wear contacts. People can purchase OTC gel eye drops to lubricate their eyes and relieve the symptoms.

A person should always follow the instructions on the product packaging unless a doctor has offered different guidance.

If a person’s symptoms do not improve or become worse after using an OTC product, they should stop using it and contact a healthcare professional.