Two brands of eyedrops were pulled from shelves in January and February after they were linked to a drug-resistant bacteria strain that has caused at least one person's death and serious health issues in others. Weeks later, two other types of eyedrops were recalled because they posed a different kind of contamination risk.
This flurry of recalls may have you second-guessing your trusted source of dry-eye relief, but there are significant differences among the recalls and plenty of steps you can take to stay safe.
"I would encourage all people out there who take eyedrops to continue using them, of course making sure that they're not using any of these that are recalled," said Dr. Christopher Starr, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Here's what to know about these recalls.
What eyedrops have been recalled?
In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration warned people to stop using EzriCare Artificial Tears and Delsam Pharma's Artificial Tears after the eyedrops were linked to a drug-resistant strain of the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Infections from this bacteria strain have caused at least one person's death, vision loss in eight others and the surgical removal of four people's eyeballs.
Global Pharma, which makes EzriCare and Delsam Pharma's eyedrops, recalled both products in February.
Last week, a Florida woman sued Global Pharma, claiming that an infection caused by the eyedrops was so severe that doctors had to surgically remove one of her eyes.
The FDA has also warned people to stop using an eye ointment manufactured by Global Pharma because of possible contamination.
The two other eyedrop recalls were not linked to the bacteria outbreak.
On March 1, Apotex recalled prescription eyedrops used to reduce eye pressure in people with glaucoma or ocular hypertension. The company recalled six lots of Brimonidine Tartrate Ophthalmic Solution 0.15% because at least four bottle caps developed cracks, which could affect the product's sterility.
On March 3, Pharmedica recalled two lots of Purely Soothing 15% MSM Drops because they were not sterile. These drops are used to treat eye irritation and swelling.
Review the recall notices.
The CDC said that as of Tuesday, the drug-resistant bacteria strain linked to the recalled EzriCare and Delsam eyedrops had been found in 68 people in 16 states.
The best way to find out if you have eyedrops that were included in the recall is to review the recall notice provided by each company. Each notice has details on which batch of each product was affected. To view the notices, people can go to fda.gov/safety/recalls.
See a doctor if you have symptoms.
People who have used these artificial tears and who have symptoms of an eye infection should see a doctor immediately, the CDC said. The symptoms can include yellow, green or clear discharge from the eye, redness of the eye or eyelid, increased sensitivity to lights and eye pain or discomfort.
Apotex said people who received its recalled eyedrops, which were distributed between April 5 and Feb. 22, should contact their health care provider and pharmacy. People can contact the company to request a "recall/return packet."
An Apotex vice president, Jordan Berman, said in an email that the company had seen only four bottles with cracked caps. He said that one of the bottles was from a customer or consumer complaint, and the other three were found in retained samples — products that the FDA requires a company to keep back in case issues like these arise.
"There have been no drug safety reports related to negative health outcomes due to this product," Berman said.
Pharmedica said that as of March 3, it had not received any reports of illness or other "adverse events" from the use of the eyedrops. The company did not specify how many bottles were affected or how the bottles became not sterile.
Anyone who has issues with any of the recalled the eyedrops can file a report with the FDA online, by mail or by fax.
Eyedrops are generally safe.
Dr. Barbara Tylka, an optometrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said that in general, eyedrops are safe to use and that many people need them to treat conditions such as dryness or irritation. About 117 million Americans used eyedrops and eyewash in 2020, according to Statista, a market research firm.
To use eyedrops safely, Tylka said people should use their own bottle and make sure it has not expired. People who have had eyedrops prescribed to them for a procedure such as cataract surgery should stop using those products once the healing process is over, she said.
To safely apply eyedrops, she said, people should use their nondominant hand to "gently tug on the lower eyelid, look up slightly," and then, with the dominant hand, put "that little drop in that lower cul-de-sac in the eyelid area."
Starr, an associate professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medicine, said that one thing some patients do wrong is press the bottle tip into the inner corner of the eye, which can contaminate the drops and scratch the surface of the eye. He said that when he accidentally hits his eyelid or eyelashes with the bottle tip, he considers the bottle contaminated and either resterilizes it or replaces it.
Starr and Tylka both emphasized that although the recalls were worrying, eyedrops are generally safe.
"I've continued to use eyedrops every day throughout this whole thing," Starr said.