Have you ever wondered why prescription eyedrops have different color bottle caps? Did you know that the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has a policy to color-code topical ocular medication bottles caps?

Why was this needed? 

“The Academy’s policy on color coding of eyedrop drug caps was prompted by reports to the Academy and the National Registry of Drug-Induced Ocular Side Effects of serious adverse events resulting from patient difficulty in distinguishing between various ocular medications. With input from the pharmaceutical industry and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Academy’s Committee on Drugs developed a uniform color-coding system.” — AAO policy statement

This totally makes sense. I would think the highest-risk population to mix up medications are those with vision problems. The colors help serve as an safeguard against error.

Trick of the Trade

EyedropBottleColorMemorize these color schemes as a safeguard against your instilling the wrong eyedrop in your patient.

Note, the most common topical ocular medication we likely use in the ED is a topical anesthetic. These bottles have a white cap color.

Thanks to Dr. Aaron Kornblith (chief resident, UCSF-SFGH EM residency) for reviewing these colors at a recent conference.

Michelle Lin, MD
ALiEM Founder and CEO
Professor and Digital Innovation Lab Director
Department of Emergency Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
Michelle Lin, MD

@M_Lin

Professor of Emerg Med at UCSF-Zuckerberg San Francisco General. Founder of ALiEM @aliemteam #PostitPearls https://t.co/7v7cgJqNEn
Michelle Lin, MD