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Carboxymethylcellulose Side Effects

By CL Hendricks ; Updated July 27, 2017

Carboxymethylcellulose, as part of the compound “carboxymethylcellulose sodium opht,” is an effective medicated eye lubricant marketed under product names such as Theratears, Refresh Tears, Tears Again and Refresh Liquigel. It relieves irritated and dry eyes, and it supplements the eye's natural lubrication and cleansing function. Many people use these products to counteract the effects of computer use, heat and air conditioning and outside activities, as well as to treat conjunctiva of the eyes and inflammation or drying of the cornea.

Minor Side Effects

When using products containing carboxymethylcellulose sodium opht for the first time, patients may temporarily experience blurred vision. It is also common to feel some temporary stinging, burning or irritation. These reactions should lessen with use. If any of these effects become worse or persist, patients should contact their physician or pharmacist immediately.

Major Side Effects

While not all that common, there are some more serious side effects, such as changes in vision, eye pain, eye irritation and redness. These do not resolve quickly and patients who experience any of these side effects should stop using the product and contact their physician immediately.

Allergic Reactions

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to products containing carboxymethylcellulose. Such reactions are rare but serious. Patients who develop a rash, swelling of the face, throat or tongue, itching, difficulty breathing or severe dizziness should stop using the product and seek medical attention immediately. These can be life-threatening situations and should be treated as such.


Patients should not use carboxymethylcellulose sodium opht if they have any type of viral, bacterial or fungal infection in either eye, unless they are also taking an anti-infective medication. This product is not considered harmful to unborn babies, but women who are breast-feeding or pregnant should first discuss its use with their doctor. Due to the common side effect of temporary vision blurring and stinging immediately after placing the product in the eye, patients should use caution when driving, operating machinery or performing any activity that requires clear vision.


Additionally, since carboxymethylcellulose sodium opht is not intended for ingestion, it can cause harm if swallowed. If this occurs, you should contact the U.S. National Poison Hotline at 800-222-1222. Those who have additional questions about this product should contact their physician or pharmacist. Side effects may also be reported to the Food and Drug Administration at 800-FDA-1088.

Other Uses for Carboxymethylcellulose

Carboxymethylcellulose is also a thickener and dietary fiber. It is water soluble but indigestible and cannot be absorbed as a nutrient. Some commercial laxative preparations contain carboxymethylcellulose often combined with psyllium. If you ingest too much, it can cause diarrhea, constipation and bloating.

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