A Flight with Sore Eyes: Vision Care for Travelers

Frank Gillingham, MD

Waiting for the ferry from Sifnos to Athens on a windy day in August, Boston attorney Scott Martin (an alias) felt something fly into his eye. Severe pain began immediately and continued throughout the six hour ferry ride despite all attempts to wash the eye clean. After an emergency room nurse told him the queue was five hours long, Scott's wife successfully inverted his eyelid and removed a small cinder from it using the tip of a paper towel.

Fortunately Scott had no complications from either the foreign body or the make-shift surgery, today his vision is perfect. The lesson for health conscious travelers is that eye problems are common and many can be prevented.

Keep in mind the following general advice. Air pollution can be particularly irritating to the eyes, as can polluted water, make sure you check with local contacts about air quality and safe places to swim. Finding high quality eye protection in certain countries can be difficult so bring your own, particularly if you require it for your job. Carry an extra pair of prescription glasses, packed in your carry on luggage if possible, and bring a copy of your latest eyeglass prescription (a contact lens prescription won't suffice).

If you take eye medications regularly (e.g. drops for glaucoma), pack extra because your medication may not be available in your destination. Bring written copies of the prescription in case you're stopped by Customs. When you see your eye doctor, let her know that you plan to travel internationally and follow her advice.

The most common eye problems travelers report are dryness/irritation, fatigue, sun exposure, foreign bodies and infections. Here are some specific tips for these problems:

Dry/Irritated Eyes

Tired Eyes

Sun Exposure

Foreign Bodies