Early studies suggest autologous serum tears are more effective at treating dry eye than other standard treatments. However, their effectiveness depends on the individual and the severity of their condition.

Manufacturers make autologous serum tears, or autologous serum eye drops (ASEDs), from a person’s blood serum. They contain various vitamins, nutrients, and other growth factors that may help reduce symptoms such as inflammation and promote healing.

Still, ASEDs do not have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as a treatment for dry eye, and most health insurance policies do not provide coverage for them.

This article explains the process of making ASEDs, their effectiveness as a dry eye treatment, their general cost, and more.

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ASEDs contain a person’s own blood serum. Unlike artificial tears, ASEDs share many of the same biochemical properties as real tears. They may help treat dry eye disease (DED).

Compared with artificial tears or a person’s natural tears, ASEDs have more:

  • vitamin A, which is essential for good vision
  • lysozyme, a protein that provides antimicrobial protection
  • transforming growth factor‐β, which helps regulate ocular cell behavior
  • fibronectin, a protein that plays a role in corneal healing

Yet, ASEDs may have less:

  • vitamin C, which helps protect the eyes from UV light damage
  • immunoglobulin A, an antibody that helps with immune function
  • epithelial growth factor, a protein that stimulates cell growth

Doctors may suggest trying ASEDs for dry eye when other treatments have not been successful.

The exact process for creating ASEDs depends on the specific laboratory or clinic making them. However, it typically involves the following steps:

  1. First, a technician will draw blood from the person’s arm. The amount of blood varies depending on the person’s needs and the intended serum concentration.
  2. The lab will process the blood in a centrifuge, a device that separates the various components of a particular liquid. It will separate the person’s blood into plasma, red blood cells, and other components.
  3. The person preparing the serum will extract it from the centrifuge and mix it with saline solution.
  4. Once the final product goes through sterilization techniques, the preparer will seal the ASEDs in small vials and label them with the person’s name, collection date, and expiration date.
  5. When the person receives their ASEDs, they must store them according to the instructions. Their prescribing physician will instruct them on how frequently to use the drops.

For some people, ASEDs may effectively treat dry eye symptoms.

In 2019, researchers reviewed a small sample of randomized controlled trials regarding the effectiveness of artificial tears versus autologous tears for dry eyes.

Each of the seven studies in the analysis suggested autologous tears were more effective than artificial tears at relieving dry eye symptoms. However, because those studies lacked standardized protocols, such as having a consistent serum concentration, the authors note the need for a larger sample to review.

Additionally, during a 2021 double-blind, randomized trial, researchers compared autologous serum with allogenic serum tears, which are drops made from donor blood rather than the person’s own.

They found no significant differences between how well people tolerated the tears or their effectiveness in treating dry eye symptoms, suggesting allogeneic serum eye drops may be an effective alternative for people unable to use their own blood.

Still, this was also a small study, with only 15 out of 19 participants completing the trial. Longer, larger-scale studies could provide more conclusive evidence.

Learn more about dry eyes.

The cost of ASEDs depends mainly on the laboratory preparing the serum and how much the person needs.

While Medicare and most private health insurance companies cover other treatments for dry eye, most do not cover ASEDs. However, a person’s insurance plan may cover certain related expenses, such as the cost of the blood draw. Additionally, an insurance company may reimburse some or all of the cost after the person files a claim.

It is important for people to consult their healthcare team and health insurance provider if they have one regarding the exact cost and how much, if any, an insurance policy will cover.

The Florida Lions Eye Bank Foundation runs a serum tears assistance program, which provides free ASEDs for people who cannot afford them. It states that a donation of $1,140 can pay for a year’s supply of drops for one person.

Some alternative treatments include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments: OTC eye drops, also called artificial tears, can help alleviate mild dry eye symptoms. People can also purchase OTC moisturizers and gels.
  • Prescription medications: Doctors may prescribe medications such as cyclosporine (Restasis) or lifitegrast (Xiidra) for chronic dry eye.
  • In-office procedures: When standard treatment options do not help, a doctor might recommend an in-office procedure, such as intense pulsed light or punctal plugs.

Lifestyle changes

Certain lifestyle adjustments may also help alleviate dry eye symptoms. These include:

  • increasing water intake throughout the day
  • getting enough sleep at night
  • adding moisture to the air in the home with a humidifier
  • taking breaks from staring at screens
  • avoiding smoke, wind, and air conditioning
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses outside

Finally, a person with dry eye symptoms may talk with their healthcare team about medications they currently take. Some medications, such as antihistamines and antidepressants, may cause or worsen dry eye symptoms.

Learn about natural remedies for dry eyes.

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about ASEDs.

How long does it take to receive ASEDs after a blood draw?

The time it takes for a person to get their ASEDs after a blood draw depends on various factors, such as how much serum they need and the specific lab or clinic preparing the serum.

Generally, they can expect to wait anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the lab to process, sterilize, and package the serum for use as eye drops.

How long do serum eye drops last?

Several factors can affect the shelf life of ASEDs. For example, those that contain preservatives may have a longer shelf life than those without preservatives.

Additionally, the percentage of saline solution in the drops may affect how long the ASEDs can remain sealed and frozen before the person must trash them.

Before using ASEDs for dry eye, a person may ask their doctor about:

  • the proper way to store both sealed and unsealed vials
  • when to discard a vial after they open it
  • how long vials may safely remain frozen

Although formal research is ongoing, many people experience relief using ASEDs for dry eye symptoms. Thanks to their custom-made nature, ASEDs can provide nutrients, vitamins, and other growth factors that standard OTC eye drops or artificial tears cannot offer.

Most health insurance companies do not cover ASEDs, so it is important for someone considering these eye drops to talk with their healthcare team about out-of-pocket costs.