Benzalkonium chloride is a chemical used as a preservative in many eyedrops, ranging from some over-the-counter eyedrops to many prescription eyedrops.
Chronic dry eye patients are generally advised to avoid frequent use of any eye lubricant products preserved with benzalkonium chloride, because of the damage it can cause to the tear film and ocular surface.
With respect to artificial tears, few remain on the market with BAK as the preservative because most doctors advise against its use and alternatives are readily available, including eyedrops with gentler preservatives and preservative-free unit-dose eyedrops.
With respect to prescription eyedrops such as glaucoma medications or even allergy drops, the situation is much more problematic because alternatives may not be readily available and the drug may be medically necessary. It is our hope that the ophthalmic pharmaceuticals will become more sensitive to this need and produce preservative-free versions of key topical ophthalmic preparations.
If you have been prescribed a drug containing BAK and expect to use it for more than a week, please discuss with your doctor whether there is a preservative-free version of the drug or whether there is an alternative equally effective drug without BAK that could be used to treat your condition.