Comparing the Effectiveness of Autologous Serum Drops and Artificial Tears

artificial tearsAutologous serum drops and artificial tears are both used for the treatment of dry eye as well as other corneal surface disorders. Although relatively new in practice, autologous serum drops are being more frequently utilized and studied with some positive outcomes reported. Some members of our BFS community are quite familiar and experienced with both of these treatments so we wanted to share some general information about them as well note a few research studies that have reported on the effectiveness of the serum drops versus artificial tears. 

First, it’s important to understand the difference between serum drops and artificial tears. Autologous serum drops are made from a patient’s own blood and contain components that are similar to those found in tears such as nutrients and growth factors. Artificial tears contain lubricants such as hydroxypropyl  methyl cellulose and carboxy methyl cellulose and they may also have preservatives. These drops provide lubrication to the eye but may cause irritation or allergic reactions and lack essential nutrients present in tear film.

Artificial tears of many types and brands are readily available at neighborhood retail stores and can be purchased without a prescription. Conversely, autologous serum drops are more difficult to obtain as they require a health-care provider’s prescription, screening for infectious diseases, a blood draw, and customized laboratory production. As a result, serum drops are significantly more costly; however, health insurance may offer coverage for these types of drops. At present, there is no agreement of standards among practitioners as to the preparation and usage of these drops. For these reasons, autologous serum drops are often utilized less frequently and are not typically a first-line treatment.

research study published in Current Eye Research in August 2011 showed that the use of autologous serum in dry eye patients resulted in a significantly higher improvement (50%) in comparison to conventional treatment with artificial tears (20%) over a short-term course of treatment.  This was a randomized, double-blind clinical trial of small group of adults with severe dry eye disease indicating the effectiveness of the serum drops. An earlier study detailed in Cornea in 2008 also showed similar positive outcomes for the use of autologous serum drops to treat dry eye disease. Seeking to show the importance of the essential components of tears present in serum drops to a healthy ocular surface, researchers in Nagoya, Japan, led by PROSE practitioner Dr. Takashi Kojima, demonstrated in their randomized control study that autologous serum drops exceeded the effectiveness of artificial tears in treatment of dry eye diseases.

To illustrate a patient’s use of serum drops for treatment of dry eye resulting from Sjögren’s syndrome, a case study from the Review of Optometry contains a detailed look at what is entailed in producing, purchasing, storing, and utilizing the autologous serum drops. Previous conventional treatments were not providing this patient with the relief he needed from the dry eye symptoms and he found marked improvement with serum drops.

If you’ve used serum drops, please consider sharing your experience here with our community.