Eye emergencies can be frightening, and even more so when you're far from home and not sure where to seek help. Vision loss and eye pain can make navigating a new city difficult and worse yet, if not treated appropriately, can lead to permanent visual impairment. Here are the seven eye care do's and don'ts to follow while you're traveling this summer, from comprehensive ophthalmologist Anne Sumers, M.D., a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and world traveler.
Do: Double your pairs and pack your backups.
If you wear glasses, bring two pairs of glasses on every trip! "When I was 14, my glasses fell off and sank to the bottom of the ocean as I was looking at fish in Greece," says Dr. Sumers. "While everyone else toured the Acropolis, my mom and I had to spend the day in search of an English-speaking ophthalmologist and a very fast optician!" Similarly, if you wear contacts, bring an extra pair — and your glasses.
Don’t: Wait to see an ophthalmologist.
Although it may be tempting, don't wait until you get home. Immediate treatment of small problems keeps them small. If you have an eye problem for which you would normally go to your ophthalmologist, you can go to EyeSmart’s Find an Ophthalmologist, which has an international list of all of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s members. "A patient of mine got his eye scratched by a branch while hiking up to Macchu Picchu in Peru. He treated it with a friend’s artificial tears, suffering terrible pain for four days, and then arrived home with a serious infected ulcer in his eye. Had he seen an eye doctor on the first day, he would have received immediate treatment and the scratch would have healed in 24 to 48 hours with no loss of vision or permanent scar of the eye."
Do: Prepare for dry eyes.
Leaving on a jet plane? Everyone's eyes dry out on airplanes. Take out your contacts if you are going to sleep for several hours or bring over-the-counter drops to lubricate your eyes.
Don’t: Use water to clean your contacts.
Always travel with your contact lens case in your carry-on, and two bottles of contact lens solution. If one opens and spills, you have a backup. If your eyes feel uncomfortable, take your contacts out and put them in sterile contact lens solution in their case — not a cup (yes, the flight attendants have unknowingly thrown out cups with the contacts in them while the passenger slept). Never store your contacts in water — water isn’t sterile and in some countries, it may even have bacteria that can cause serious eye infections.
Do: Stock up on prescription drops.
If you take prescription eye drops, be sure to bring extra unopened bottles with you. "Do not assume that a prescription from the United States can be filled in Britain (as one of my patients discovered) or that the same drops are even available in France (as another patient discovered). If you need eye drops for allergies, glaucoma or dry eye, be sure to bring them with you, and bring extras!"
Don’t: Ignore changes in your vision.
Just because it isn't painful doesn't mean it isn't serious. "One patient called me because he was having new floaters, flashes and blurred vision. He wasn't very concerned because he wasn't having any pain, so he wanted to schedule an appointment for the following week when he’d be home from vacation. But the symptoms are signs of a retinal detachment. Fortunately, he followed my advice to see a local ophthalmologist and his retinal detachment was treated the next day."
Don’t: Ignore changes in your vision (yes, it’s worth repeating).
Vision symptoms can indicate other health problems. When we travel, we change our eating and drinking habits. Blurred vision can indicate a hypertensive crisis, a stroke or out-of-control diabetes. "One of my patients called me from a conference because his vision was very blurry. He’d been out having a wonderful time with the other convention goers; eating, drinking and staying out late. When he went to a local hospital, they found that his blood sugar level was about five times what it should have been. Until then, he didn't know he had diabetes."
Do: Enjoy your travels!
"No matter where you go, there is always something new to see and learn, so take care of your eyes while you’re traveling to ensure you can get the most out of your vacation," says Dr. Sumers, pictured here with an orangutan while traveling in Borneo.