Learn what eye conditions should keep you on the ground and which won’t interfere with air travel
The American Academy of Ophthalmology often gets questions about whether recovery from eye surgery or having a specific condition means that the patient shouldn’t fly. If you have questions about your eye health, you should talk to your own ophthalmologist. But it’s important to know that there are some times when air travel really could be a danger to your eyes.
If you’ve had any kind of surgery, talk to your doctor about your travel plans. Find out what to expect after your surgery, so you know if you’re having a serious symptom. Consider staying close to home for a few days — or as long as recommended by your doctor — in case a problem comes up. And always keep your follow-up appointments so your doctor can make sure that you are healing as expected.
If you have been diagnosed with an eye condition, ask your ophthalmologist if there are activities you should limit or avoid. Make sure you understand the doctor’s recommendations and ask questions about specific activities if you’re unsure.
Can I fly after retina repair surgery?
If you’ve had your retina repaired, you should only fly when your doctor says it’s safe. To repair a detached or torn retina, the ophthalmologist often has to inject a gas bubble to hold the retina in place while it heals. A gas bubble in the eye can expand dangerously if the patient flies, goes scuba diving or undergoes any other major air pressure change. If the gas expands inside the eye, it can cause serious damage and blindness. You should stay at about the altitude of your surgery until your doctor has confirmed that the gas bubble is gone. Unlike a gas bubble, there are generally no restrictions for flying with a silicone oil bubble
Can I fly after cataract surgery?
Normal cataract surgery would not pose any problems for air travel, even right away. Once your doctor has cleared you for normal activities, flying is fine. Just don’t miss your follow-up appointments.
What about flying after complicated cataract surgery?
Even if the cataract surgery was more challenging or had complications, flying should be fine, unless air or gas had to be placed in the eye as part of the surgery.
When can I fly after surgery for glaucoma?
Whether it’s a peripheral iridotomy, laser trabeculoplasty, shunt implantation or another surgery for glaucoma, the pressure change from flying usually isn’t a concern after glaucoma surgery. You should be able to fly the next day. But talk to your doctor to get approval for your particular case, and follow up as necessary after the surgery
Is flying OK after a corneal transplant?
In some cases, an air or gas bubble is placed in the eye as part of cornea transplant surgery. If you have an air or gas bubble in your eye, flying can be extremely dangerous. Talk to your ophthalmologist about air travel if you’ve had a corneal transplant.
Can you fly if you have been diagnosed with retinal holes or wrinkles?
Flying won’t make retinal holes or wrinkles worse. However, retinal holes sometimes turn into a retinal detachment, which is an eye emergency. If you have retinal holes or wrinkles, talk to your doctor about any long or exotic travel plans so you aren’t caught in an emergency far from medical care.
What if I’ve had surgery for retinal tears? Can I fly then?
In most cases, retinal repair surgery is done with a laser. There is nothing wrong with flying after a laser retina surgery. However, retinal tears can become retinal detachments – and retinal detachment repair often involves injecting gas or liquid into the eye. That would be a serious problem if you flew in an airplane.
Can I fly after other eye surgery?
It’s safe to fly after most surgeries on the outer part of the eye or eyelids, like pterygium surgery (when a benign, fleshy growth is removed from the eye) or eyebrow-lifting surgery. The biggest concerns when flying after any surgery on the exterior of the eye are:
- making sure you see your doctor for follow-up appointments as scheduled;
- keeping the eye clean; and
- keeping the eye and surgical wound from drying out on the flight.
Can I fly after I have my eyes dilated for an eye exam?
Yes, you can fly after you’ve had your eyes dilated. But bring your sunglasses since you’ll be sensitive to light.
Is it safe to fly if I have keratitis?
There is no danger from flying if you have keratitis. But the air inside airplanes can be very dry and make the symptoms of keratitis worse. Be prepared to keep your eyes comfortable with eye drops or other relief methods that work for you.
Can you fly with a posterior vitreous detachment?
Yes, you can fly if you have posterior vitreous detachment (when the gel-like liquid inside the eye shrinks and pulls away from the back of the eye). There is nothing about flying that would make a posterior vitreous detachment worse. However, PVD can lead to retinal detachment. Speak to your doctor about your posterior vitreous detachment and what could happen next. You don’t want to be caught away from medical care if a posterior vitreous detachment becomes a retinal detachment and requires immediate care.
Can I fly if I’m seeing flashes and floaters?
Yes, you can fly with flashes and floaters. Flying won’t make your flashes or floaters worse. But flashes and floaters can be a serious sign of a potentially blinding retinal detachment or other retina problem. See an ophthalmologist right away if you have a sudden increase in flashes or floaters, preferably prior to your flight.