The FDA is sounding the alarm about contaminated eye drops. Here’s what consumers should know.

Good question: What guidelines should we follow when buying eye drops?

Good question: What guidelines should we follow when buying eye drops?


Consumers using eye drops have been spooked this year by a rash of government warnings about dozens of brands potentially containing bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration announced a wave of eye drop product recalls earlier this year associated with four deaths and several cases of vision loss. In August, the agency warned against using two more eye drop products due to the risk of potential bacterial or fungal contamination. Most recently, the FDA last week urged consumers to potentially stop using 27 eye drops tainted with bacteria.

The flurry of warnings has left some consumers uneasy about using their favorite artificial tears. Still, consumers shouldn’t worry, experts told CBS MoneyWatch, noting that the warnings simply show that regulators are taking a closer look at over-the-counter eye drops, which should cause the products to suffer in the long run.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest wave of eye drop warnings and how to know if you should switch dry eye products.

Why did the FDA raise concerns about 27 eye drop products?

The board issued the warning against 27 dry eye products marketed under store brands such as CVS Health, Rite Aid, Target Up & Up and Walmart’s Equate after finding harmful bacteria and “frenzy conditions” at a factory where the products were made.

The FDA recommended that retailers and brands selling the affected products remove them from store shelves and websites after the products’ manufacturer and distributor “failed to act quickly” to recall the products, an FDA representative told CBS MoneyWatch.

Why have so many eye drop products been subject to warnings or recalls?

Eye drop products can share the same suppliers or be manufactured in the same facilities, meaning a bacterial outbreak at just one factory could affect multiple products across multiple brands, Carri Chan, a business professor at Columbia University, told CBS MoneyWatch.

The problems may also relate to the FDA’s efforts to scrutinize the products, according to Chan. The FDA began tightening its oversight of eye drops after an outbreak of a drug-resistant bacteria known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa was linked to the products earlier this, an FDA representative told CBS MoneyWatch.

Chan believes the FDA is likely to find more problems with eye drops that could increase the risk of bacterial contamination, “from the packaging to the actual drops that come in the bottles,” she said.

Eye drop products, which must be sterile to be safe to use, are generally more likely to be recalled because they require “much finer oversight on the manufacturing side to make sure there’s no contamination at all,” compared to other drug products , Chan said.

How do I know if my eye drop product is included in an FDA warning or recall?

The FDA keeps one updated list of eye drop products that consumers should throw away immediately. You can also consult the website of your eye drop product manufacturer to check if the product you normally use has been recalled.

What can I do to be safe?

Eye drop users should be able to recognize the signs of eye infection and seek medical attention immediately if they experience adverse reactions to their regular eye drops, said Dr. Christopher Starr, spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told CBS MoneyWatch. The signs of an infection include discharge, redness or pain, he said.

Additionally, consumers should always check the expiration date on their eye drop products before using them, Starr said. That’s because even non-recalled, well-made eye drops can start to host potentially harmful bacteria beyond their best-by date, Starr said.

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