The Food and Drug Administration recently announced the recall of several eye drop brands over concerns they could cause bacterial infections with potentially devastating health consequences, including blindness.
Millions of consumers use over-the-counter, over-the-counter drops every day as a remedy for dryness, irritation, and other mild eye conditions. But the spate of recalls has some regular users of the products wondering if they’re safe? Here’s what you should know.
Which drop brands have been recalled?
EzriCare and Delsam Pharma “Artificial Tears Lubricant Eye Drops”. Global Pharma Healthcare recalled all batches of its EzriCare and Delsam Pharma brands of Artificial Tears Lubricant Eye Drops on February 2 that may have been contaminated with bacteria.
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The recall came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began an investigation into a cluster of bacterial infections with multiple conditions they believed were linked to the teardrops. At the time of the recall, there were 55 reports of side effects from the drops, including eye infections, permanent vision loss, and one death from a bloodstream infection.
Global Pharma Healthcare said in a statement consumers using the contaminated eye drops could go blind.
Customers were advised to stop using the drops immediately.
Delsam Pharma “Artificial Eye Ointment”. Global Pharma also recalled a batch of a product distributed by Delsam Pharma, “Artificial Eye Ointment,” again on February 24 due to possible microbial contamination.
The company said use of the contaminated ointment could lead to infections that cause blindness, although it has received no reports of injuries linked to the product.
Apotex “Brimonidine tartrate ophthalmic solution, 0.15%.” another manufacturer, Apotex on March 1 recalled six batches of its own brand of glaucoma drops called “Brimonidine tartrate ophthalmic solution, 0.15%,” intended for patients with open-angle glaucoma or ocular hypertension.
The company said it initiated the recall “out of caution” due to concerns that cracks in some of the units’ caps could compromise the sterility of the drops and lead to infection.
Pharmedica “Purely Calming, 15% MSM Drops.” pharmaceutical company Pharmedica USA recalled two batches of Purely Soothing, 15% MSM Drops in March, also over sterility concerns.
Pharmedica warned that patients using the contaminated eye drops could risk going blind, but the company said it has received no reports of infections or illnesses linked to its product.
How were problems with eye drops first identified?
According to the Associated Press, a patient in Los Angeles County, California who visited an ophthalmologist in the spring of 2022 developed an eye infection. Local health officials identified several more cases over the ensuing months, with patients reporting sore eyes with heavy yellow pus obscuring most of the pupil.
The hospital that reported the first infection found it was caused by a bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause infections in the blood, lungs or other parts of the body. The institution also noted that the bacterium is resistant to many antibiotics.
Several reports of drug-resistant Pseudomonas were received in other states during the year, including a report of a Washington man who died of a bloodstream infection related to over-the-counter eye drops.
In January, tests confirmed the Florida cases were caused by the same strain of bacteria as cases in California, Connecticut and Utah. On January 20, the CDC asked doctors not to recommend the EzriCare product.
What are the risks?
As of March 1, the CDC has identified 64 patients in 13 states with Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Health officials said the outbreak was linked to the use of artificial tears. Eight patients reported vision loss and one person has died, according to the CDC.
Those who experienced nausea reported using EzriCare eye drops most often, while some patients used multiple brands.
Eye drops can cause infections in other parts of the body because the eye is connected to the nasal cavity through the tear duct and germs can travel from the nasal cavity to the lungs.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, naturally occurring in the environment, can spread to people exposed to contaminated water or soil. Pseudomonas aeruginosa can be transmitted from one person to another through contaminated hands, equipment, or surfaces, according to the CDC. Drug-resistant strains of bacteria cause more than 30,000 infections in US hospital patients and more than 2,500 deaths annually.
What if I use the recalled drops?
The CDC and FDA are urging patients to stop using the recalled eye drops immediately — even if they haven’t experienced an adverse reaction.
Patients who have previously used potentially unsafe products should contact their doctor and ask for a safe substitute.
When should I see a doctor for evaluation or treatment?
Patients who have used recalled eye drops should assess if they have any of the following symptoms commonly associated with eye infections:
discharge from the eye
eye pain or discomfort
Redness of the eye or eyelid
feel something in the eye
Increased sensitivity to light
Patients showing signs of infection should contact their doctor immediately for evaluation and treatment. Patients without symptoms do not need to undergo an examination.
Are my eye drops safe?
Over-the-counter medical devices aren’t as tightly regulated as prescription drugs, noted Dr. David Agus, CBS News Medical Associate.
“There aren’t many security tests for all these things. So if anything comes out, it’s because there have been complaints, or in this case a drug-resistant bacterium has been linked to a number of cases,” he told CBS MoneyWatch.
Regarding products and brands staying on the market and not being recalled, he advised patients to “stick to the big brands they trust.” He also urged consumers to consider whether they really need to use eye drops.
“Ask your eye doctor if you really need them,” Agus said. “If we don’t really need something, we probably shouldn’t be using it. If it’s not a real problem — maybe we’re having a bit of dryness — we probably shouldn’t put anything in our eye,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.