My story will not leave a dry eye in the room.
When I was 11 years old I received my first pair of prescription glasses. In my early 20’s I switched over to contact lenses. And finally, in 2012 I saved up my pennies and took the leap to laser eye surgery so I could ditch the glasses and contact lenses for good.
This surgery was a success, but I was warned of the risk of mild side-effects - one of them being regular dry eye symptoms. Add to that, most of my adult work life has revolved around sitting in front of a computer screen, and I’ve got the perfect storm for dry eyes.
Considering the widespread use of smartphones, tablets and computers, it’s not surprising that a recent online poll revealed that nearly half of Americans aged 18 and older regularly experience dry eye symptoms. So, there’s a good chance you know that feeling – whether it’s at the mild end with dryness and irritation, or more severe symptoms of grittiness, burning and stinging.
What causes dry eyes?
I will prefix my commentary by saying I’m not a doctor. If you need health advice you should seek a medical professional - my experiences shared in this article are not a replacement for qualified advice. But I’m hoping by sharing them you’ll find inspiration.
Various factors can cause ongoing dry eyes such as aging, certain medical conditions, certain medications and laser eye surgery. But dry eyes can strike anyone at any time, even when travelling. Here’s a few common causes I’ve experienced while on the road:
- Air conditioning – in summer when the temperature climbs, relief from the air conditioner may save the day, but it can also dry out the air. Drier air tends to suck water from your body, and when dry air comes in contact with your eyes, the result is just as you’d expect… dry.
- Heating – conversely, in winter central heating and other heating systems can dry out the air too.
- Airplanes – air travel makes access to new, amazing locations possible, but it can take a toll on the body. Your eyes need at lease 50% moisture content in the air for optimal comfort. On an airplane, humidity levels often are below 20% – that’s lower than the Sahara Desert! The cabin air pressure is typically set to the equivalent of 5000-8000 feet above sea level. That’s just like standing on top of a tall mountain, with the thin air increasing water evaporation from your body. 50% of the air in the passenger cabin is recycled and passed through a filter. And every 2-3 minutes all air is cycled around the cabin and replaced. All these factors combined makes air travel tough on your eyes.
- Screens – staring at the screen on a smartphone, tablet, computer or television contributes to dry eye symptoms. Combine this with air flight and it’s no surprise your eyes feel red and irritated when you step off a plane.
- Driving – focusing on the road is important on long road trips. But without regular, deliberate blinking, it’s easy to cause dryness in your eyes.
- Wind – breezy conditions when you’re out hiking or even in a city can affect your eyes.
- Altitude – staying in an elevated region with thinner air contributes to faster drying of skin and eyes.
- Air pollution - a scientific study revealed people in Chicago and New York are 3-4x more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome than folks living in urban areas with little air pollution.
Solutions to dry eyes while travelling
So how are you supposed solve these struggles? I’m glad you asked. Here’s a few tips I discovered that will help keep your eyes happy:
- Use artificial tears / eye drops – I now use Rohto Dry-Aid to prevent and fix dry eyes. This is a fast-acting solution and the soothing effects last for up to 12 hours by helping to restore the natural tear film. Rohto Dry-Aid is available at major retail locations where over-the-counter dry eye drops are sold and online at the Rohto website (also check them out on Facebook and Twitter).
- Drink plenty of water – Your body is made up of around 60% water and requires 9-13 cups (2.2 litres to 3 litres) per day to continue healthy function. If you’re partial to alcohol, keep in mind it acts hampers the body’s mechanism to reabsorb water, so try and limit alcohol consumption.
- Wear sunglasses – Ideally glasses that wrap around your eyes to better protect from wind when going outside. Good quality sunglasses also block harmful UV rays and reduce strain.
- Use a humidifier in winter – I recently discovered this handy little gadget and now travel with a small portable humidifier wherever I go. Not only does it help add water back into the air making the house more comfortable, counter-acting the drying effects of both air conditioners and heaters, but it can help with sore throats and colds.
- Rest your eyes – Take a break and look away from screens, or spend a little time doing blinking exercises. These are easy to do and just take a few seconds. Try to get into a routine of blinking deliberately while driving long distances. It’s the little things that add up.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses on long flights – Earlier I explained how dehydrating the environment of an airplane cabin can be, so give your eyes a break and switch to glasses on long flights or just go without contact lenses if you can.
- Avoid direct air vents (in car and on planes) – It might be tempting while driving on a hot summer day to blast the icy cold air conditioner straight into your face, but your eyes won’t love you for it. Instead, just direct the car’s air vents to your chest or away from your body.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let dry eyes get you down or spoil your next vacation. I hope these tips will help you around your home and on the road, so you can get on with your day and spend time doing the things you love… such as liking my photos on Instagram.