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How to choose the right eye drops – a Japanese perspective

In this post, rather than list specific eye drops for sale, I think it would be helpful to provide a guideline for what to look for in eye drops in general, so people can make their own informed decisions case by case, eye drop brand by eye drop brand. Whenever blogs list specific products in a top 10 or top 20 list, they are probably trying to sell them, and create the blog around the products they offer, rather than the other way around. That’s ok for coffee or snacks or something light, but for something as important as your eyes, it’s best to focus on what works and not on your product portfolio.

Japan and eye drops

Japan seems like it has a specialty for eye drop manufacturing, maybe because we have a large elderly population, a lot of people doing computer desk work, and a very large number of people who use corrective eye glasses or contact lenses. It’s like the perfect storm for eye strain! Japan also has a well-developed government regulatory system, and a culture that doesn’t like to take risks, so things approved for sale in Japan will tend to be among the safest in the world.

One reason that the need for eye drops has increased so much over the past decades is that economies like Japan (and Europe, the United States, etc), have moved from a manufacturing base to an office worker base, with so many people working the entire day in front of computers, and now using tiny smartphone screens for hours and hours each day. Focusing on 2-dimensional screens for most of your waking hours will tend to increase the workload on your eyes, and create tired eyes and eye strain.

When talking about tired eyes there are actually various different symptoms that we should watch out for. There are hyperemia (red eye), blurred vision, and dryness, so it can be difficult to know what kind of eye drops to choose.

What are the causes of tired eyes and eye strain?

In a physical sense, eye fatigue is caused by muscle fatigue in in the muscles around the eyes, and in the muscles used when focusing on an object. Looking at computer and smartphone screens, discerning very small letters for hours every day, will tend to put pressure on our eyes. Farsightedness when not corrected by reading glasses is also a major cause of eye strain, affecting mostly people 40-years-old or older.

When eyes do get tired, symptoms include pain in the back of the eyes, red eye, dazzling, hazy vision, and a feeling of pressure or squeezing. Effective countermeasures that do not require any medicine at all are to take frequent breaks from the computer and smartphone, and to consciously notice and increase eye blinking. Eye drops are an easier solution that doesn’t require active effort, and are very popular in Japan. When choosing eye drops, here are things to consider:

Check specific ingredients

If you want to prevent tired eyes and eye strain, it is meaningless to buy eye drops with ingredients that don’t work well. So let’s introduce specific ingredients you can look for when choosing particular products.

One thing is to be careful with vasoconstrictors. These are meant to suppress red eye. The problem is that they don’t treat the causes of red eye, and instead just temporarily suppress them. The result can be an even bigger red eye rebound when the effect of the vasoconstrictors wears off. With that in mind, it’s probably best to use them sparingly, and if red eye persists and becomes a bigger problem, to set aside over-the-counter eye drops and see a doctor.

Difficulty focusing

"Neostigmine methyl sulfate" is an ingredient that improves focusing, by improving ciliary muscle function that takes place when your eyes focus on objects. These muscles contract and relax the eye, so if you have trouble focusing, you can look out for this ingredient.

Keeping eyes moist

Tired eyes and eye strain can be alleviated by keeping your eyes moisturized. This is how eye drops developed in the first place! Ingredients that help with this include "chondroitin sulfate sodium" and Vitamin A, which have a tear-retaining effect.

Anti-inflammatory ingredients

“Dipotassium glycyrrhizinate" and "epsilon-aminocaproic acid" can be effective in reducing inflammation and red eye.

Nourishing ingredients

Tourine (a sulfur amino acid), Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12, the latter two also familiar from nutritional drinks, have the effect of enhancing fluid balance, nerve function, and helping with eye fatigue.

What about contact lenses?

It is best to be careful if you are wear contact lenses, because some of the ingredients in eye drops, especially preservatives, can damage your lenses. So it is best to check with the contact lens maker or your eye doctor for specific eye drop recommendations. Generally, a lot of over the counter eye drops are good only for hard contact lenses.

Cooling effect

This is something that a lot of people in Japan look for when choosing contact lenses, a sense of eye refreshment and cooling that comes from applying the eye drops. These type of eye drops in Japan usually include the word “cool” in the product name. Everyone is different though, and some people with sensitive eyes have a sense of irritation from eye drops with a strong cooling effect.

Major Japanese brands

The popular Japanese brands to look for in eye drops are Rohto (with a focus on older users), Lion, and Santen. I personally prefer eye drops from Rohto, which tend to be the strongest and most premium, but there are other people who like Lion or Santen.

An online article can be a useful starting point for gathering information, but this blog post is not meant to be medical advice, and it is always best to consult a doctor for any eye strain or eye irritation. There is almost nothing more important to us than our eyes!

If you are interested in Japanese eye drops and live outside of Japan, our shop Allegro Japan ships all over the world (with free international shipping on every order), and sells the most popular brands. Thank you for reading, and please check out my other blog posts on a wide variety of Japanese topics if you have time!

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