Artificial Tears: Biological Role of Their Ingredients in the Management of Dry Eye Disease

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Dry eye disease (DED) is the most common ocular surface disease, characterized by insufficient production and/or instability of the tear film. Tear substitutes are usually the first line of treatment for patients with DED. Despite the large variety of tear substitutes available on the market, few studies have been performed to compare their performance. There is a need to better understand the specific mechanical and pharmacological roles of each ingredient composing the different formulations. In this review, we describe the main categories of ingredients composing tear substitutes (e.g., viscosity-enhancing agents, electrolytes, osmo-protectants, antioxidants, lipids, surfactants and preservatives) as well as their effects on the ocular surface, and we provide insight into how certain components of tear substitutes may promote corneal wound healing, and/or counteract inflammation. Based on these considerations, we propose an approach to select the most appropriate tear substitute formulations according to the predominant etiological causes of DED.