Can Swallowing Eye Drops Make You Sick?

Only put eye drops in your eyes.
Only put eye drops in your eyes. (Image: "Free Eye and Snowflaked Lashes Creative Commons" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: Pink Sherbet Photography (D. Sharon Pruitt) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Most eye drops are harmless if swallowed, but some may actually be harmful, even fatal. Eye drops are not intended to be ingested, and it's best to avoid ingesting any medication that is intended to be used topically. Even small amounts of some harmful substances can cause problems.

Ingredients in Eye Drops

Some eye drops are made simply of a saline (salt and water) solution and are harmless if swallowed. However, others contain dangerous ingredients such as Tetrahydrozoline, boric acid, hydrochloric acid, parabens, alcohol and mineral oil, in addition to many other ingredients that are potentially harmful. These ingredients are especially harmful for young children. If you are worried a small child may ingest eye drops, keep them securely out of their reach and consider purchasing all-natural or saline eye drops.

Prescription Eye Drops

Prescription eye drops, those you cannot get without a doctor's recommendation, contain even more harmful ingredients than over-the-counter versions. They are meant to treat more serious conditions, and the ingredients are more powerful and more concentrated. It's recommended not to ingest any eye drops, but ingesting prescription eye drops should be avoided at all costs. Prescription eye drops should only be used by the person to whom they were prescribed.

Intended Use

Eye drops are, of course, intended to be put into the eyes to relieve such conditions as redness, dryness and itching. All medicines should be used in the manner they were intended, and it's important to follow the package's or doctor's instructions exactly.

Reaction to Ingesting Eye Drops

If eye drops are ingested, especially those containing Tetrahydrozoline, a person could experience blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, dangerously low body temperature, fluctuating blood pressure and even seizures. Eye drops should never be ingested. Even just a few drops can cause problems.

What To Do If Ingested

If you or someone you know ingests eye drops in any quantity, immediately call a poison control center. In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222. Tell the nurse when the drops were ingested and how much. Follow her instructions carefully and do not try to deal with the problem yourself The course of action will depend upon the ingredients of the eye drops consumed. Stay calm so you can carry out the course of action properly.

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