anesthetic drops

There are several drops we use to anesthetize the surface of the eye. The most common one is called proparacaine, though we occasionally use tetracaine.  These drops are very similar to the “novacaine” that a dentist uses … but fortunately we don’t have to use a needle to apply it!  Numbing drops make it easier to check eyes pressure using applanation tonometry. We also use these drops prior to cataract surgery to minimize discomfort.  Unfortunately, anesthetic eye drops are not safe for home use.  The medications are toxic to the corneal surface when used repeatedly and will keep surface wounds from healing. For pain, we prescribe ointments, bandage contact lenses, and can even patch an eye shut if needed (see patching).

Dr. Timothy Root is a practicing ophthalmologist and cataract surgeon in Daytona Beach, Florida. His books, video lectures, and training resources can be found at:


  1. Anesthetic drops are extremely useful in our office, but I NEVER prescribe this medication to my patients. These drops are toxic to the cornea when use repeatedly.

    I’ve seen some LASIK doctors prescribe diluted tetracaine after cornea surgery … especially after PRK (which can be pretty painful). I’ve never used it after cataract surgery, however.

    One of the worst corneal ulcers I’ve ever seen is from a patient who “borrowed” a bottle of numbing drops from the office and kept using it every 15 minutes for eye pain. Nasty stuff.


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