Protect your Eyes during Air Travel

Q I’m travelling overseas at the beginning of the year and I wear contact lenses. I always struggle with dry eyes during flights. Do you have any tips? G.P.

A RUDINE DIEDERICKS REPLIES:

Business trips can often mean navigating from one city to the next for hours on end. Here are some eye care tips for when travelling by air to ensure optimal comfort as well as good and healthy vision.

DRY EYES DURING AIR TRAVEL

The reduced humidity in an aircraft can cause contact lens wearers to experience symptoms of dry eyes and discomfort such as a sore or dry throat and nose, and they become far more susceptible to infections. During a flight, humidity can reduce to 20%, far less than the 40 to 70% most people are comfortable with. There are different ways to treat dry eyes while travelling, including drinking plenty of water rather than alcohol, coffee and tea as these all have a diuretic effect. Eye drops are also a lifesaver for dry eyes so ask your optometrist to recommend a good brand.

More eye care do’s and don’ts when travelling by air

  • Ask your optometrist for a copy of your latest prescription for spectacles and/or contact lenses before travelling.
  • Keep lens cleaning wipes or lens spray close at hand to clean your spectacles and avoid damaging the lenses.
  • Remember back-up spectacles, contact lenses, contact lens solution, a contact lens carry case and prescribed eye drops.
  • Check the safety regulations on liquids before packing contact lens solution and eye drops in your carry-on for your flight.
  • Pack extra containers for contact lenses in your hand luggage and fill these with sterile eye solution. This will come in handy when contacts become uncomfortable in dry air conditions and you prefer to remove them.
  • Use an eye mask to rest your eyes during the flight. Although the lights in the plane will be dimmed or switched off during an overnight flight, you may still want some extra protection for your eyes.
  • Enjoy your flight and watch a movie to pass the time, but remain aware that the reduced humidity in a plane, which causes eyes to dry out, can lead to poorer vision. Watching a screen in the dark forces your eyes to adjust to consistently changing light, making them work harder and feel strained. Wear your prescription spectacles or use eye drops to relieve tension in the eyes when watching TV.
  • Never clean contact lenses with water. Water is not sterile and in some countries water may contain bacteria that could cause infections. Contact lenses should only be cleaned with sterile eye solution.
  • Don’t wear contact lenses if you feel you may fall asleep during the flight.
  • Don’t insert or remove contact lenses mid-flight either. It’s not the most sterile of environments and it is better to rather use daily disposable lenses during the flight.
  • Don’t postpone an eye examination. It is important to have any eye injury and painful eyes checked immediately by an optometrist and not to wait until after your holiday. Early detection can prevent the development of a serious eye condition.
  • Don’t overlook changes in vision. If there is no pain in the eyes, this does not mean that vision changes are not serious as it can also indicate other health complications. Optometrists are often the first medical professionals to detect systemic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, many of which can be treated if diagnosed early.

SELECTING THE RIGHT PAIR OF SUNGLASSES

Too much UV exposure increases your risk of eye diseases and it goes without saying how important it is to invest in the right sunglasses. Here are some things to look out for when selecting the ideal pair of sunglasses for you and your family:

  • UV light protection. Look for sunglasses that block at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Yellow filters. These filters are also called blue blockers because they block all blue light. As a result, the eye perceives the surroundings in a yellowish tint. The benefit is better contrast for very distant objects, especially on a cloudy day. Best suited for skiers, hunters, sailors and pilots.
  • Polarised lenses. These lenses block diffused light, such as sunlight reflected off water surfaces or the pavement. They are particularly useful for driving and fishing as they reduce glare.
  • Mirror lenses. These reduce the quantity of light reaching the eye but do not offer any protection from UV radiation.
  • Side protection. Sunglasses with this feature protect the eyes from light entering from the sides.
  • Gradient tint lenses. The lenses are dark-coloured in the upper part of the spectacles and light-coloured at the bottom. They thus block the glare from above, but permit normal downward vision for the eyes. They are useful for drivers, but are not recommended for the beach because a strong glare can come from below.
  • Photochromatic lenses. These darken automatically when it is bright and lighten when it is dark. Depending on the UV radiation and the temperature, the change in tint can be very quick.
  • Wraparound lenses. These help protect your eyes from the side.
  • Contact lenses. Some contact lenses offer UV protection, but wearing sunglasses can ensure additional protection.
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Protect your Eyes during Air Travel

Rudine Diedericks
About The Author
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She is a senior interim partner of the Mellins Group, a leading, full service optometry group in South Africa with 55 branches. She is a senior optometrist and is passionate about helping people and advising them on advanced precision in lens and eye care. She is a spokesperson for Mellins i-Style and was at the helm of the opening of the first Mellins i-Style Zeiss Experience branch in Fourways, Johannesburg.