Can you believe that drops designed to reduce red eye symptoms can actually be fatal if they’re not used correctly?

The chemical compound used in such drops, tetrahydrozoline, is totally safe for the eyes, and works by constricting the blood vessels to “get the red out.” When used correctly, products boasting this compound – such as Visine, Murine and Altazine – do not absorb into the system in what can be considered toxic amounts, rendering them safe for use in the eyes.

Problems occur when drops are orally ingested.

Problems begin to manifest when the drops are – accidentally or purposely – taken orally, as the compound passes directly into the GI tract and is quickly absorbed into the blood and central nervous system. This can technically lead to an overdose, with symptoms of such “eye drop poisoning” including shallow breathing, reduced heartbeat, hypothermia, drowsiness and possible risk of entering a coma.

Children and pets are more at risk for this “tetrahydrozoline toxicity” (the scientific name), with children under six who consume more than the one milliliter drop at the most risk.

Indeed, there is a reason why the FDA labels these eye care drops “For External Use Only” while clearly stating the drug should be kept out of the reach of children.

At the end of the day, intentionally or accidentally ingesting eye drops can lead to toxic blood levels.

The difference between this type of ingestion and using the drops as intended is simple: When utilized to reduce redness, these types of eye drops are not absorbed systemically in amounts that lead to toxicity. As previously mentioned, tetrahydrozoline passes rapidly through the gastrointestinal tract when consumed orally, quickly reaching the blood and central nervous system.

Children sometimes find the small bottles of odorless, clear solution “intriguing” and consume the contents, with a typical bottle of eye drops containing anywhere from 15 to 30 milliliters of solution.

If toxicity is suspected, do not induce vomiting, but seek immediate medical attention.

As eye care specialists, Matossian Eye Associates and our specialized eye doctor staff can outline everything you need to know about using eye drops, in the safest ways possible.