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Eye Drop Instillation

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By Gil Wayne BSN, R.N.

Administering eye drops is a fundamental nursing procedure aimed at treating various eye conditions and ensuring optimal eye health. This process requires precision and adherence to protocol to maximize therapeutic effects while minimizing discomfort and potential complications.

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Eye Drop Instillation

Eye drop instillation is a common nursing procedure used to administer a sterile ophthalmic medication directly into the eye. This method is often employed to treat a variety of ocular conditions, such as infections, glaucoma, inflammation, and dryness. The procedure involves placing a prescribed number of eye drops onto the surface of the eye, usually the conjunctival sac, to ensure that the medication is absorbed effectively and begins to exert its therapeutic effects. Proper technique is crucial to ensure the medication reaches the targeted area, avoid contamination, and minimize discomfort or potential injury to the patient.


Eye drop instillation is a critical nursing procedure used to manage a variety of ocular conditions, assist in diagnostic procedures, and prepare the eye for surgical interventions. Below are the main purposes of eye drop instillation, each with a rationale explaining its importance.

1. Treatment of Eye Disorders

  • Glaucoma. Eye drops reduce intraocular pressure, which is essential to prevent optic nerve damage and vision loss associated with glaucoma.
  • Uveitis. Anti-inflammatory drops help reduce inflammation within the eye, alleviating pain and preventing damage to ocular tissues.
  • Allergic Reactions. Antihistamine and anti-inflammatory drops relieve symptoms like itching, redness, and swelling, improving patient comfort and preventing further irritation.
  • Infections. Antibiotic or antiviral eye drops directly target the infectious agents causing bacterial or viral infections, helping to resolve the infection and prevent its spread.

2. Anesthetize the Eye Before Treatment

  • Surgery Preparation. Anesthetic eye drops numb the eye, preventing pain during surgical procedures and ensuring patient comfort and cooperation.
  • Diagnostic Procedures. Local anesthesia is essential for procedures such as tonometry, where accurate measurement of intraocular pressure is required without causing discomfort to the patient.

3. Routine Eye Examinations

  • Dilation. Dilatory eye drops expand the pupil, allowing ophthalmologists to have a better view of the retina and detect conditions like macular degeneration, retinal detachment, and other retinal diseases.

4. Diagnostic Aid

  • Dye Instillation. Fluorescein and other diagnostic dyes highlight abnormalities in the cornea and help identify conditions such as corneal abrasions, dry eye syndrome, and other surface irregularities.
  • Intravenous Administration. Dyes administered intravenously can visualize the retinal blood vessels during procedures like fluorescein angiography, aiding in the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy and other vascular conditions.

5. Emergency Treatment

  • Foreign Body Removal. Anesthetic and lubricating eye drops make it easier and safer to remove foreign bodies from the eye by numbing the area and reducing friction, thereby preventing further injury.
  • Chemical Burns. Irrigating eye drops help to flush out harmful chemicals from the eye, minimizing damage and starting the decontamination process immediately, which is crucial in emergency situations.


By understanding and implementing the objectives of this procedure, nurses can ensure that patients receive optimal care tailored to their specific ocular needs. The following objectives outline the primary goals of eye drop instillation:

1. To combat infection. Eye infections, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications, including vision loss. Antibiotic or antiviral eye drops help eliminate the pathogens responsible for the infection, thereby preventing its spread and promoting healing.

2. To relieve pain and discomfort. Conditions such as corneal abrasions, foreign body presence, and post-surgical recovery can cause significant pain and discomfort. Anesthetic drops numb the eye, while lubricating drops soothe irritation, enhancing patient comfort and facilitating other necessary treatments.

3. To dilate or constrict the pupil. Dilating the pupil with mydriatic drops allows for a comprehensive examination of the retina and other internal structures of the eye, which is crucial for diagnosing conditions like retinal detachment and macular degeneration. Conversely, constricting the pupil with miotic drops can help manage conditions such as glaucoma by reducing intraocular pressure.


Understanding when to use this procedure ensures that patients receive the appropriate care for their specific ocular needs. Below are the primary indications for eye drop instillation.

1. Eye Examinations

  • Routine Eye Exams. Eye drops, particularly dilatory drops, are used during routine eye examinations to dilate the pupil, allowing for a comprehensive view of the retina and other internal structures of the eye.
  • Diagnostic Procedures. Diagnostic dyes, such as fluorescein, are instilled to highlight abnormalities in the cornea and conjunctiva, aiding in the diagnosis of conditions like corneal abrasions and dry eye syndrome.

2. Treatment of Ocular Diseases

  • Glaucoma. Eye drops are essential in managing glaucoma by reducing intraocular pressure, thereby preventing optic nerve damage and preserving vision.
  • Uveitis. Anti-inflammatory eye drops help reduce inflammation of the uvea, alleviating pain and preventing further ocular damage.
  • Infections. Antibiotic or antiviral eye drops are used to treat bacterial or viral infections, directly targeting the pathogens causing the infection.
  • Allergic Reactions. Eye drops containing antihistamines or anti-inflammatory agents relieve symptoms of ocular allergies, such as itching, redness, and swelling.

3. Preoperative and Postoperative Care

  • Anesthetic Drops. Anesthetic eye drops are used before surgical procedures to numb the eye, ensuring patient comfort and preventing pain during the operation.
  • Antibiotic and Anti-inflammatory Drops. Postoperative use of these drops helps prevent infections and reduce inflammation, promoting healing and preventing complications.

4. Emergency Situations

  • Foreign Body Removal. Lubricating and anesthetic eye drops facilitate the removal of foreign bodies from the eye by reducing pain and friction.
  • Chemical Burns. Irrigating eye drops are used to flush out harmful chemicals from the eye, minimizing damage and initiating immediate treatment.

5. Management of Chronic Conditions

  • Dry Eye Syndrome. Lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears, are used to alleviate dryness and irritation in patients with chronic dry eye syndrome.


While eye drop instillation is a routine practice in ocular care, it is not suitable for every patient. Understanding the contraindications helps healthcare providers to make informed decisions, ensuring the safety of their patients. Below are the key contraindications for eye drop instillation, each elaborated to highlight its significance.

1. Allergies to the Medications. Patients with known allergies to specific eye drop medications or their components may experience allergic reactions, which can range from mild irritation to severe anaphylaxis. It is essential to review the patient’s medical history and confirm any known allergies before administering eye drops.

2. Corneal Abrasions or Ulcers. In cases of corneal abrasions or ulcers, certain eye drops, particularly those containing preservatives, can exacerbate the condition and delay healing. Preservative-free formulations or alternative treatments should be considered.

3. Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma. Mydriatic drops, which dilate the pupil, can worsen acute angle-closure glaucoma by increasing intraocular pressure, potentially leading to vision loss. It is crucial to avoid these drops in patients with this condition.

4. Recent Ocular Surgery. After ocular surgery, the eye is particularly vulnerable, and certain eye drops can interfere with the healing process or introduce infections. Only medications prescribed by the surgeon should be used during the postoperative period.

5. Severe Conjunctivitis or Blepharitis. Infections of the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis) or eyelids (blepharitis) can be aggravated by some eye drops, especially those containing steroids, which can suppress the immune response and worsen the infection.

6. Compromised Ocular Surface. Conditions that compromise the integrity of the ocular surface, such as severe dry eye syndrome or chemical burns, may require special consideration. Standard eye drops might cause further irritation or damage. Specialized lubricating drops or medical interventions should be used instead.

7. Pregnancy and Lactation. Some medications used in eye drops can be absorbed systemically and may pose risks to the fetus or nursing infant. It is important to evaluate the safety of these medications in pregnant or lactating patients and consult with an obstetrician if necessary.

8. Systemic Conditions. Patients with certain systemic conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases or uncontrolled diabetes, may experience adverse reactions to specific eye drops (e.g., beta-blockers used in glaucoma). A thorough medical history and consultation with the patient’s primary care physician are necessary before administration.


Solutions and ointments introduced into the eye should be sterile, and careful measures of medical asepsis should be followed.

1. Prevention of Infection. The eye is a highly sensitive and vulnerable organ, susceptible to infections if exposed to non-sterile substances. Bacteria, fungi, or viruses introduced through contaminated eye drops or ointments can cause conditions such as conjunctivitis, keratitis, or endophthalmitis, which can lead to pain, vision impairment, or even blindness.

2. Maintaining Treatment Efficacy. The efficacy of ophthalmic medications can be compromised if the solutions or ointments are not sterile. Contaminants can interact with the active ingredients, reducing their effectiveness or altering their intended action. Ensuring sterility preserves the medication’s integrity and therapeutic benefits.

3. Aseptic Technique. Medical asepsis involves practices that reduce the number and transfer of pathogens. This includes hand hygiene before and after administering eye drops, using sterile applicators, avoiding contact between the dropper or tube and any surfaces (including the eye), and keeping the container tightly closed when not in use. Following these practices minimizes the risk of contamination and infection.

4. Patient Safety. Patient safety is paramount. Adhering to sterile techniques prevents introducing pathogens that could cause infections or complications, ensuring that the patient’s condition is managed effectively without additional risks. Educating patients on proper application techniques and the importance of sterility can also contribute to safer self-administration at home.

5. Regulatory Standards. Healthcare facilities are required to follow strict regulatory standards for infection control, including the use of sterile solutions and aseptic techniques in all procedures. Compliance with these standards is necessary to meet legal and accreditation requirements, as well as to maintain the trust and safety of patients.


Proper equipment selection is essential for the successful administration of eye drops. From sterile solutions to protective gloves, each item serves a specific purpose in ensuring the safety and efficacy of the procedure.

1. Sterile Solution of Medication. The medication solution itself is the primary component of eye drop instillation. It contains the active ingredients necessary to treat various ocular conditions, such as infections, inflammation, or glaucoma. The solution must be sterile to prevent introducing contaminants into the eye, which could lead to infections or other complications.

2. Small Gauze Squares or Cotton Balls. Gauze squares or cotton balls are used to clean the area around the eye before administering the drops. They help remove any debris or discharge that may be present on the eyelids or lashes, ensuring that the medication is applied to a clean surface. Additionally, they can be used to gently blot excess solution after instillation, minimizing spillage and preventing irritation.

3. Gloves. Wearing gloves during eye drop instillation helps maintain aseptic technique and prevents cross-contamination between the healthcare provider and the patient. Gloves protect both parties from exposure to potentially harmful pathogens present on the hands. They are especially important when handling medication bottles, applicators, or other equipment that may come into contact with the eye or its surrounding tissues.

4. Applicators or Droppers. Applicators, such as dropper bottles or single-use ampules, are used to deliver the medication into the eye accurately. These devices are designed to dispense a precise amount of solution with each drop, ensuring consistent dosing and minimizing waste. Applicators should be sterile and designed for ophthalmic use to prevent contamination and maintain medication integrity.

5. Eye Occluder or Patch. An eye occluder or patch is sometimes used after instilling eye drops to prevent immediate drainage and maximize medication absorption. It helps ensure that the medication remains in contact with the ocular surface for a sufficient period, enhancing its therapeutic effect. Occluders or patches can also improve patient compliance by reducing the need for frequent re-administration of drops.

Procedure for Eye Drop Instillation

Below are the detailed steps for properly administering eye drops:

1. Check the patient’s name.
Verifying the patient’s identity helps prevent medication errors and ensures that the right individual receives the prescribed treatment. Confirming the patient’s name against their identification or medical records is a crucial safety measure.

2. Check physician’s directives.
Reviewing the physician’s orders ensures that the correct medication, dosage, and frequency are administered according to the patient’s treatment plan. Following physician directives helps prevent errors and promotes continuity of care.

3. Wash hands prior to instilling medication.
Hand hygiene is essential to prevent the transmission of pathogens and reduce the risk of infection. Washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer helps maintain asepsis and protects both the patient and the healthcare provider.

4. Cleanse the eyelids and lashes with cotton balls or gauze pledgets moistened with normal saline.
Cleaning the eyelids and lashes removes debris, oil, and bacteria that could interfere with the absorption of the medication or cause contamination. Normal saline is a gentle solution that helps maintain the ocular environment without irritating the delicate tissues.

5. Use each cotton ball or pledget for only one stroke, moving from the inner to the outer canthus of the eye.
Using a single stroke with each cotton ball or pledget minimizes the risk of cross-contamination between the eyes. Moving from the inner to the outer canthus ensures thorough cleansing while preventing the introduction of contaminants into the tear ducts.

6. Tilt the patient’s head back slightly if he is sitting or place the head over a pillow if he is lying down.
Positioning the patient’s head correctly facilitates the instillation of eye drops and prevents spillage. Tilting the head back slightly or using a pillow helps align the eye for easy access and ensures proper delivery of the medication into the conjunctival sac.

7. Fill eye dropper with medication but prevent from flowing back into the bulb end.
Proper filling of the eye dropper ensures accurate dosing and prevents contamination. Avoiding the flow of medication back into the bulb end maintains sterility and prevents potential contamination of the remaining solution.

8. Using forefinger, pull lower lid down gently.
Pulling down the lower lid creates a space for instilling the drops into the lower conjunctival sac, ensuring direct contact with the ocular tissues. Gently pulling the lid minimizes discomfort and prevents injury to the eye.

9. Instruct patient to look upward.
Directing the patient to look upward helps expose the lower conjunctival sac, facilitating the instillation of drops into the appropriate location. Looking upward also reduces the reflex to blink, allowing the drops to remain in contact with the ocular surface for optimal absorption.

10. Hold the dropper close to the eye but avoid touching the eyelids.
Holding the dropper close to the eye improves accuracy and control during instillation while minimizing the risk of contamination from contact with the eyelids. Maintaining asepsis and preventing contact between the dropper and the eyelids reduces the risk of introducing pathogens into the eye.

11. Allow the prescribed number of drops to fall in the lower conjunctival sac but do not allow to fall onto the cornea.
Administering drops into the lower conjunctival sac ensures direct contact with the ocular tissues, promoting optimal absorption and therapeutic effect. Preventing drops from falling onto the cornea reduces the risk of irritation and maintains visual clarity.

12. Release the lower lid after the drops are instilled. Instruct the patient to close eyes slowly, move the eye, and not to squeeze or rub.
Releasing the lower lid allows the drops to spread evenly over the ocular surface and minimizes leakage. Instructing the patient to close their eyes slowly facilitates distribution of the medication while reducing the risk of spillage or loss. Advising the patient not to squeeze or rub the eye prevents potential injury or displacement of the drops.

13. Wipe off excess solution with gauze or cotton balls.
Removing excess solution minimizes the risk of spillage and reduces discomfort or irritation caused by dripping. Gently wiping away excess solution also promotes patient comfort and ensures a clean, dry eye area.

14. Dispose of materials.
Discard any used materials, such as tissues or cotton balls, into the appropriate waste receptacle.

15. Repeat procedure if necessary.
If the patient requires multiple eye drops or medications, repeat the process for each eye drop, ensuring to wait a few minutes between each instillation to prevent medication washout.

16. Wash hands after instilling the medication.
After administering eye drops, washing hands is essential to maintain infection control measures and prevent the spread of pathogens. Even though gloves may have been worn during the procedure, hand hygiene is still necessary to ensure thorough cleansing and eliminate any potential contamination that may have occurred during the process. Washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer effectively removes any residual medication or ocular secretions, reducing the risk of cross-contamination between patients or other surfaces in the healthcare environment. Additionally, clean hands promote the overall safety and well-being of both the patient and the healthcare provider, aligning with best practices in infection prevention and control.

17. Document administration.
Record the administration of eye drops in the patient’s medical record, including the type of medication, dosage, route, and any patient response or adverse reactions.


Charting in eye drop instillation involves recording specific details related to the administration of medication into the eye. This documentation serves as a vital reference for healthcare providers, enabling them to monitor the patient’s response to treatment, identify any adverse reactions, and coordinate follow-up care effectively.

1. Record time of administration. Documenting the exact time when the medication was instilled provides a chronological record of the patient’s treatment regimen. This information helps healthcare providers monitor medication adherence, track the interval between doses, and assess the effectiveness of the treatment over time.

2. Specify type, strength, and dosage of medication. Recording details such as the type of medication, its strength, and the dosage administered ensures clarity and accuracy in the patient’s medical record. Different medications may have varying formulations and concentrations, and documenting this information helps prevent medication errors and supports safe prescribing practices.

3. Identify the eye receiving the medication. Clearly documenting the eye onto which the medication was instilled (e.g., right eye, left eye) helps prevent confusion and ensures precise administration. This information is particularly important when administering different medications to each eye or when monitoring for side effects or adverse reactions specific to one eye.

4. Note any patient instructions or observations. Documenting any specific instructions provided to the patient, such as post-administration care or potential side effects to watch for, promotes patient education and engagement in their treatment plan. Additionally, recording any observations related to the patient’s response to the medication, such as changes in symptoms or adverse reactions, facilitates ongoing assessment and adjustment of the treatment regimen.

5. Include healthcare provider signatures and timestamps. Obtaining signatures from healthcare providers responsible for administering or supervising the eye drop instillation, along with timestamps, adds accountability and authentication to the documentation. This practice ensures that the charted information is verified by authorized personnel and enhances the reliability and legal validity of the patient’s medical record.

6. Update medication administration records and care plans. Integrating the details of eye drop instillation into the patient’s medication administration record (MAR) and care plans ensures consistency and continuity of care across healthcare settings. Timely and accurate documentation enables other healthcare team members to access pertinent information and provide coordinated care based on the patient’s needs and treatment goals.

References and Sources

  • Berman, A., Snyder, S. J., & Frandsen, G. (2015). Kozier & Erb’s fundamentals of nursing: Concepts, process, and practice (10th ed.). Pearson.
Gil Wayne ignites the minds of future nurses through his work as a part-time nurse instructor, writer, and contributor for Nurseslabs, striving to inspire the next generation to reach their full potential and elevate the nursing profession.

2 thoughts on “Eye Drop Instillation”

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