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Going on vacation soon? Here’s how different types of travel can affect your vision — and how to prepare.
Bathing suit? Check. Passport? Check. Contact lenses? Did you pack a spare pair? What about cleaning solutions?
Whether you’re hitting the open road for a family vacation, going on a couples cruise, or boarding an airplane for a business trip, don’t forget about your eyes. Keeping them healthy in a variety of travel situations also takes preparation.
Before you set off on your next adventure, use these planning tips to help keep your eyes and vision in tip-top shape while you’re away.
Has it been a while since your last eye checkup? Now’s the time to book an appointment!
Your Trip Involves: Flying
Everything can feel dry when you’re on an airplane, including your eyes.
“The circulated air in pressurized cabins on planes increases the possibility of dry eye,” says Crystal Tong, O.D., F.A.O.O. She’s an optometrist at Redwood Sage PC inside America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Eastvale, California.
Her top strategies:
- Pack your contact lenses, wear your glasses. Even on short flights, glasses will be more comfortable and easier on your eyes, Dr. Tong says. This is especially true if you’re likely to doze off, because sleeping in contacts deprives your eyes of oxygen. That can lead to irritation, and it increases your risk of an eye infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Point the overhead fan away from your face. Air blowing straight at your face is a sure way to increase the chances of dry, uncomfortable eyes during the flight.
- Use artificial tears as needed. Tuck a bottle in your carry-on and keep it handy whenever you need an extra dose of moisture, says Dr. Tong. She favors ones that are preservative-free. Most airport sundries shops carry eyedrops in case you forget yours at home. Just check the label and make sure you’re buying lubricating or moisturizing drops, not anti-redness drops — they won’t do much for dry eyes.
If you choose to keep your contact lenses in and doze off, Dr. Tong says you can lubricate the surface of your eyes with artificial tears formulated for use with contacts.
One big don’t to keep in mind: Don’t try to immediately remove your contacts if you wake up with dry eyes. “That can lead to an abrasion,” Dr. Tong says. Instead, blink several times to get your natural tears flowing. For more tips, read “I Slept in Contacts. Now What?” here.
Your Trip Involves: Open Roads
Long car trips pose many of the same dry eye hazards as plane travel: dry air from the car’s air-conditioning system coupled with the urge to snooze between pit stops. For that reason, Dr. Tong says she’s a fan of wearing your glasses and stashing artificial tears in your easy-to-reach bag for quick relief.
If you’re in the driver’s seat, be alert for signs of eyestrain and fatigue:
- Blurred vision
- Dry eyes
- Excessive watery eyes
- Neck pain
Eyestrain can set in any time you ask your eyes to visually focus on things for a long time — in this case the road and traffic — Dr. Tong explains. Nighttime driving and the glare of oncoming traffic are other contributors.
Take advantage of the fact that you’re on vacation and enjoy frequent stops to give your eyes a much-needed break.
Also, don’t forget to wear sunglasses. Although windshields typically protect against the sun’s rays, UV rays can penetrate car windows and bounce off clouds or reflect off the road. All those indirect rays can reach your eyes and become another contributing factor to eye fatigue.
Plus, sunglasses are one of the easiest ways to help prevent age-related cataracts, adds Dr. Tong.
For help choosing a pair of sunglasses, read “Ask an Optometrist: Do I Need to Buy Expensive Sunglasses to Protect my Eyes?” here.
Your Trip Involves: Outdoor Adventures
Camping, hiking, and fishing — these fun activities have a potential downside for your eyes: pollen. Cue the eye itchiness, redness, and watering.
“If you have allergies, any outdoor activities can set off eye allergy symptoms, which can really ruin your fun,” says Dr. Tong.
What’s more, different places in the country have different types and levels of allergens, which are particles that can trigger allergies, she adds. “Allergy symptoms that are well-controlled at home may come on stronger when you reach your campsite or are deep into your hike.”
Her fun-saving solution: Be prepared with your allergy medications and antihistamine eyedrops. If you don’t use these drops normally during allergy season, ask your optometrist to recommend one before you leave town. Dr. Tong often recommends drops with active ingredients such as ketotifin, olopatadine, or alcaftadine, which are all available over the counter.
Another eye saver to pack is your sunglasses, she adds. For allergy sufferers, sunglasses act as a barrier to wind-swept pollen. But a good pair of shades help everyone — not just those with allergies — see more comfortably when outside.
Polarized lenses are a good option if you’re doing anything on or near the water. These lenses contain a special filter that blocks intense reflected light, reducing glare.
If you don’t want to carry two pairs of glasses in your daypack, consider buying glasses with photochromic or light-reactive lenses that transition from light to dark automatically.
Your Trip Involves: Sand or Snow
The hot sand and warm waves may seem the opposite of snow-covered mountains, but they share a similarity — the need for sun protection for your eyes.
Ultraviolet (UV) exposure can contribute to cataracts, eye cancer, and snow blindness (a form of photokeratitis), notes the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
“Polarized glasses or goggles are your best bet to protect your eyes from UV light as well as any glare from water and snow,” Dr. Tong says.
Wide-brimmed hats also help block reflective light when you’re lying on the beach or taking a beach walk. As a nice bonus, this stylish accessory protects more than your eyes. It also helps protect the skin on your neck, face, and ears.
One not-so-obvious eye protective measure Dr. Tong recommends: Stay hydrated. Be sure you take frequent sips of water whether you’re sunning yourself or taking runs on the ski slopes.
And be wise if you plan to drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol on a hot day is a double whammy for your eyes, says Dr. Tong. It affects the body’s overall hydration status and can cause your eyes to feel dry and irritated.
Your Trip Involves: A Cruise Ship
With so much water fun everywhere — on-board pools and waterslides, and shoreside beach excursions — contact lens wearers may want to invest in daily disposable lenses for the trip.
“Contacts and water don’t mix,” Dr. Tong explains. The CDC warns that wearing contact lenses while swimming (in a pool, ocean, lake, or river) or soaking in a hot tub increases the risk for eye infections.
“When patients tell me that they’ll be vacationing and will likely be partaking in activities in the water, I recommend fitting them with daily disposable contact lenses,” says Dr. Tong. “These will be healthier for their eyes and decrease the risk of eye infection from parasites if removed and disposed of quickly.”
Plus, if you lose one, it’s not as big of a deal because you can just pop in another.
4 Vision-Sharp Tips for Vacation
For happy travels, keep these four things in mind before you go:
Refill your eye medications early.
You can’t assume that a prescription can be filled wherever you’re traveling to,” says Dr. Tong.
If you take medication for an eye condition, such as glaucoma, see how much you have left before you bring extra with you, she advises.
If it looks like you’ll run out on vacation, find out from your insurance plan and pharmacy whether you can get your prescription filled ahead of schedule.
Make sure you’re up to date on your eye exam.
If your eye exam falls during vacation time or your contact lens prescription will expire soon, it’s best to be seen well before you go, says Dr. Tong.
Don’t wait until the week you leave. Eyeglasses take about two weeks to come in. “Depending on your contact lens prescription, it can take a while to order the lenses you need,” she adds.
Take advantage of America’s Best two-pair offers and have a backup pair of eyeglasses ready to go with you on the road.
The same goes for contact lenses, Dr. Tong says. “I always have a few extra pairs of contact lenses in my travel bag,” she says. “The expiration on these is typically years away, so I feel fine about leaving them in my bag for a while as long as they’re not exposed to extreme conditions.”
Also, have extra contact solution on hand — you never want to use water in a pinch to store soft contact lenses. Doing so can affect the shape and integrity of contact lenses, which can irritate the eye, Dr. Tong explains. Tap water can contain germs that also make you more prone to infection, according to the CDC.
“You also shouldn’t use anti-redness drops or artificial tears to store your lenses because they can cause unwanted side effects,” she says.
Know the warning signs of eye problems.
No one wants to deal with a medical issue when enjoying vacation, but Dr. Tong says to be ready to get medical help for your eyes immediately if you notice any of the following:
- Flashes of light
- Sudden appearance of floaters
- Major vision changes
“These can all be symptoms of something that needs medical attention right away. Get checked out,” says Dr. Tong.
If you’re in the U.S., you can call any America’s Best location and ask if an optometrist is available to examine your eyes. Eye doctors have special instruments that can better assess your eyes. But if that’s not possible, go to the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.