We know how to take care of our skin and what kind of clothes to wear when we’re travelling on the plane, but did you know that air travel puts pressure on the eyes? While it is essential to take care of our eye health all year round, this holiday season also means that the trip overseas can test our eyes beyond our usual daily routines.
The low humidity in aeroplanes not only dries out your skin but it also causes discomfort in sensitive areas such as your eyes, mouth and nose. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), humidity in aircraft cabins is usually less than 20%, significantly lower than the average humidity in Singapore, which hovers around 80%. As such, dry eyes are a common condition experienced by travellers when they fly overseas. As such, we asked Dr James Pan, Senior Consultant Opthalmologist of Nobel Eye and Vision Centre (Healthway Medical) to get some tips on how to avoid issues. Here’s what he has to say:
Advice on contact lens use during travel
Go for an eye check a few weeks before travelling to ensure that your contact lens prescriptions are up to date. Aside from bringing a pair of glasses with you, remember to also bring an extra contact lens cases, spare contacts and any other eye care supplies you need on your trip.
It may also be tempting to purchase contacts during your travels, especially when they may be sold at the fraction of the price of your usual contacts. However, keep in mind never to purchase contacts unless they’ve been prescribed for you as wearing non-prescribed contacts may harm your vision.
Lastly, no matter where you are traveling, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your contact lenses or your eyes.
During your flight
Remove your contact lenses
Even under normal conditions, contact lenses increase the possibility of experiencing dry eyes. Switching to a pair of glasses during the flight will reduce this risk, and provide more comfort for your eyes during the journey.
Wear an eye mask
If you are planning to take a nap, wearing an eye mask will help you get better rest by increasing darkness and keeping any dust and debris from accumulating near your eyes. This ensures that once you will not accidentally rub any foreign material into your eyes once you wake up.
Use eye drops
Consider increasing your use of eye drops during and after the flight to help prevent the build-up of foreign material or any dryness that can cause eye irritation. This applies whether you are a contact lens user or not. If you suffer from dry eyes on a regular basis, consult your eye care professional before travelling as you might need a more effective, long-lasting lubricant to keep with you on the flight.
A dehydrated body can result in dry eyes. Keep yourself hydrated by taking in plenty of fluids before, during and after the flight. This is especially important if you are planning to have an alcoholic drink or other caffeinated beverages on the plane, which would dehydrate you further.
After your flight
After the flight, continue to lubricate your eyes to keep them moist and free of foreign particles, and remember to drink plenty of fluids to replenish your body after the dry in-flight conditions. If you continue to experience dry eyes or other eye symptoms after your flight, visit an eye care specialist to get it examined.
Do’s and don’ts during your holiday
Caught up in the excitement of a holiday, some of us may neglect to care for our eyes, and expose them to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, the glare from sandy beaches, and even the snow.
While there are a few things we can do to make sure that we take care of our eyes, even while travelling and taking in the stunning views from our vacation destination, you should already be practicing some general care habits to care for our eyes. This includes:
Wearing proper protective eyewear
A fashionable pair of sunglasses is good for more than just looking good. Sunglasses are vital to shield your eyes from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. Excessive UV exposure can cause early cataract formation, age-related macular degeneration (deterioration of the retina) and pterygium.
To protect your eyes from harmful solar radiation, sunglasses should have both UVA and UVB protection, the two different types of ultraviolet waves that require different defenses. (UVA rays will progress signs and conditions of aging, while UVB rays can cause cancer.)
During the winter months, people also tend to overlook the need for sunglasses. However, research shows that your eyes are just as much at risk of photokeratitis (sunburned eyes) during winter as they are in the summer. Just as the sun’s powerful ultraviolet rays reflect off the ocean and sand in the summer, they also bounce off ice and snow, damaging your eyes if you haven’t properly protected them with UV ray-blocking sunglasses.
Symptoms of sunburnt eyes include pain, redness, a gritty feeling, and blurriness. While your eyes will recover from photokeratitis with no long term sequela, you can avoid these complications by wearing sunglasses whenever you are outside or driving during winter.
If you are traversing snow-covered terrain, having goggles and a ski mask can be very helpful to protect your eyes from wind, dust and debris.
Don’t stare directly at the sun
Contrary to what advocates for staring at the sun are saying, sungazing or staring directly at the sun or other types of bright lights will cause its UV lights to flood your retina. When the light-sensing cells of the retina are overstimulated, they release a flood of signaling chemicals. With sufficient concentrations, such as during a long look at the sun, these can damage to surrounding tissue.
Short-term damage can include sunburn of the cornea, known as solar keratitis. This results in light sensitivity and pain, with symptoms generally showing up within 24 hours of exposure.
Maintain a proper diet
The holidays may call for a more adventurous diet, but it is important to remember that good eye health starts with a good diet. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins C and E help ward off age-related vision problems like macular degeneration. You can get these nutrients by filling your plate with green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, fishes such as salmon and tuna, as well as eggs, nuts and beans.
For a beach holiday
Keeping in mind some of the general tips mentioned above, here are some do’s and don’ts when you’re going for a beach holiday.
Do use googles or masks to swim
Micro-organisms from the sea can easily cause eye irritation or dangerous infections. If your vacation involves a significant amount of water time, don’t forget to pack a good pair of swimming goggles. This also applies to swimming in a pool – chemicals in the pool can react with other water contaminants and damage your eyes.
Do switch to single-use contacts to decrease your risk of eye infection
With sun and wind exposure, your contact lenses have a higher chance of causing irritation and redness instead of providing clear, comfortable vision. Try switching to single-use contacts to remove the hassle of cleaning and disinfecting your lenses every day. Single-use contacts also reduce your risk of eye infection.
Don’t swim with contact lenses on
Leaving your contacts in while you go swimming is generally considered a bad idea because they can fall out or dry out in salty seawater. Seawater also can contain micro-organisms, which can grow on your contacts.
If you want to be able to see while swimming, consider using prescription goggles. If you’re looking to only take short dips in the pool, consider trying out single-use contacts to reduce the risk of the continuous wear of contaminated contact lenses.
For a winter holiday
There is nothing like getting away from tropical Singapore to an exciting winter wonderland. However, winter holidays mean spending time in unfamiliar conditions, which could lead to improper care of your eyes. With cold temperatures and harsh winds, keep in mind some of these tips for an enjoyable winter holiday:
Do keep eye drops handy
One of the most common side effects of cold temperatures and strong winds is dry eyes. Keep your eye drops in handy, and lubricate your eyes generously as you are likely to experience dry eye symptoms at some point during your holiday
Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is also more common in the winter as dryer eyes make it harder for your eyes to naturally flush out dirt and debris. To protect your eyes from the increased risk of pinkeye in the winter, apply eye drops liberally, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes.
Distance yourself from heat sources
It may be tempting to keep yourself warm during the cold, but in addition to dry eyes and irritation, standing in direct heat can cause long-term damage to your eyes and can even lead to cataracts if you’re overexposed.
To ensure that your eyes are protected from direct heat, don’t stand in front of a heat source for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
For those into adventure sports
Some may engage in activities such as skiing, snowboarding or even bungee jumping. As with any adventurous sports, it is impossible to eliminate all the associated risks, regardless of how professional those in charge may be or how cautious you are. For example, bungee jumping may cause eye trauma and injuries to the eyes and its surrounding tissues.
While you will likely be provided masks and other protective gear for rent as a safety precaution for these activities, it is essential that you become aware of the risks involved and you ensure that those who handle the equipment of the sport are adequately trained to do so properly.
For travellers with existing eye conditions
If you have a pre-existing eye condition such as dry eyes, consider scheduling a visit with your eye doctor to recommend a specific type of eye drops to ensure that this will not be an issue on your trip. This applies to contact lens users as well. For those with chronic eye diseases such as glaucoma or allergic eye diseases, it is prudent to bring along enough eye drops with you on your trip. Bringing along a doctor’s memo indicating your diagnosis and the type of medications you need is also useful if urgent medical attention is needed overseas.
If you have recently undergone eye surgery, check with your ophthalmologist if there are any special precautions that you should take on your holiday. For example, those who have undergone recent cataract surgery or Lasik surgery should refrain from water sports a month after the procedure.
Contributed by Dr James Pan, Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist, Nobel Eye and Vision Centre, Healthway Medical
Healthway Medical: https://www.healthwaymedical.com/
Images: JD Sports Malaysia, Reebonz and Unsplash