Accidentally dropped in the eye: over 1200 medicine mishaps

A review of calls to the NSW Poisons Information Centre found that between 2004 and 2011 there were nearly 1300 cases of people accidentally dropping a pharmaceutical product in their eye – medicines that were not intended to be used in the eye.

Writing in the latest edition of Australian Prescriber, senior poisons specialist at the NSW Poisons Information Centre and medicines information pharmacist at NPS MedicineWise, Mr Jared Brown, says that the main products involved were a mixture of prescription and over-the-counter steroids, antiseptics, antifungals, antibacterials, ear wax removal, ear drying and nasal decongestant products.

The 1290 cases of accidental administration to the eye compare with around 900 people who accidentally put superglue in their eyes, during the same time period. More than 75% of the 1290 cases were adults.

“Mistaken identity of similar looking products appears to be the most common cause of errors,” writes Mr Brown.

“Further research is needed into product packaging and labelling to help stop these preventable errors.”

Suggestions for preventing use of the wrong medicines in the eye include:

  • keep the drops in the original box
  • separate the drops – store different types of drops in separate locations
  • discard leftover drops, and
  • examine the product closely before using it.

Mr Brown also writes that warnings at the time of prescribing, dispensing or sale could also help remind people about the potential dangers of mixing up medicines.

The Poisons Information Centre can be reached on 131 126 from anywhere in Australia – 24 hours a day – for information and advice on the treatment of poisoning, bites and stings.

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People with questions about their medicine can call the NPS Medicines Line (1300 MEDICINE or 1300 633 424), Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm AEST.


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Australian Prescriber is an independent peer-reviewed journal providing critical commentary on therapeutic topics for health professionals, particularly doctors in general practice. It is published every two months and distributed to health professionals free of charge, and is also available online at 

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