Many medications have side effects and ocular medications are no exception.  Eye drops do not stay only in the eyes; by traveling through the tear ducts and tiny blood vessels in the eye, the medications can reach the blood stream.

The more ocular medications you use, the higher your risk for systemic side effects. The beta-blockers used to treat glaucoma may induce or cause a slow heart rate, asthmatic episodes, decreased blood pressure, and/or memory loss. Diabetic patients have to be particularly careful when using beta-blockers because those medications can mask the symptoms of low blood sugar.  Because of these risks, an eye doctor is especially watchful when a patient begins taking a new glaucoma medication.

Although glaucoma medications are the most problematic, other ocular medications can cause systemic complications as well.  Eye drops used to combat allergy symptoms can cause headaches, sinusitis, high blood pressure, nausea and even severe allergic reactions.  The potential side effects of diagnostic eye drops used in the eye examination process (primarily dilation and the intraocular pressure check for glaucoma) may include headaches, dizziness, allergic reactions, confusion, fever and convulsions.  The more serious side effects of these allergy and diagnostic drops probably occur in less than 1 of 10,000 patients.

Eye drops can also cause severe effects if they are swallowed.  Therefore, it is extremely important that you keep all medications, including eye drops, out of the reach of children.  It is also very important to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding the medications you are taking.  Nearly all medications have potential side effects so it is extremely important to provide a complete list of your medications, including eye drops and ointments, to each doctor you see.


Drug costs are rising, and many patients find it difficult to purchase the medications they need to manage chronic conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes and high cholesterol.  There seem to be three options to lower your drug costs: (1) perform price comparisons among local pharmacies to find the best price, (2) use a generic equivalent, and/or (3) enroll with a drug discount plan, such as a Medicare Part D plan.

Based on our periodic surveys of Omaha pharmacies, prices for the same medication vary by as much as 30%, and the lowest-cost pharmacy for one medication may be the highest for another.  Patients should survey pharmacies a few times a year since prices do change.

Requesting generic medications may also be a cost-saving option, but you should always ask your physician if a particular medication’s generic equivalent is as effective as the brand name.

Finally, a few drug companies are now offering drug discount programs to low-income patients.  If you have been prescribed eye medications by your MEC doctors but cannot afford to purchase them, please call our office to discuss your options.  Many pharmacy companies offer patient assistance plans, and our staff can help you apply.