How To Keep Your Eyes Healthy When Traveling

Taking care of your eyes is especially important when traveling.  How do you protect your eyes from the elements?  How can you treat common eye conditions, and how can you recognize symptoms that require prompt medical attention?  Here is some important information to help keep your eyes healthy on the road.

Sun Exposure

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, exposure to sunlight may increase the risk of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and eye growths such as cancer.  To protect your eyes when traveling, follow these simple hints:
  • Be sure to buy 97% -100% UVA and UVB  sunglasses
  • Know that color and  darkness of the lens are not indicators of the degree of protection
  • Choose wrap-around styles that block the sun from the side
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat
  • Be aware of cloudy days when the sun’s rays can deceptively pass through clouds
  • Be especially careful between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and when you are at higher altitudes
  • Don’t look directly at the sun
  • Use eye protection all year

Dry Eyes

Even people who don’t normally suffer from dry eyes can be affected by low humidity, both indoors and outside.  Indoors, consider airplanes and hotels, where heating and air circulation systems drain moisture from the air.  Visitors to arid and/or windy climates such as deserts and mountains can also suffer from dry eyes, as tears evaporate more rapidly in low-humidity environments.

To help combat irritation from dry eyes, follow these tips. 
  • For temporary relief and to replace natural tear production, The National Institutes of Health recommends using artificial tears or other over-the-counter remedies that are easily available. Avoid artificial tears with preservatives if you need to apply them more than four times a day and preparations with chemicals that cause blood vessels to constrict, advises NIH.
  • Just as for sun damage, glasses or sunglasses that fit close to the face, such as wrap-arounds or glasses with side shields will help protect your eyes from dry air and wind.  
  • If you’re in a hotel, ask for a humidifier in your room to add moisture to the air.
  • Turn off the air conditioning/heating system in your hotel room whenever possible, especially at bed time.


Conjunctivitis is a common condition that affects the inside lining of the eye.  Symptoms may be swollen or red/pink eyes.  Typically there are three types of conjunctivitis: viral, bacterial and allergic.  Viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, but usually clears up on its own within two weeks of onset.  Bacterial conjunctivitis often affects children, and may last up to three weeks, while allergic conjunctivitis responds to treatment with allergy medications.

Itchy Eyes

Itchy eyes may be the result of conjunctivitis or allergy.  Allergic reactions occur when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance such as pollen.  Even if you’re not allergic at home, when you’re traveling, you may be exposed to different types of foliage and other possible irritants that may cause an allergic reaction.

Many types of oral antihistamines and eye drops to relieve redness and itching are available over the counter.  Check with a pharmacist for recommendations about which medication may be best for you.  For relief of more severe symptoms, see your doctor.

When To Seek Emergency Treatment

Eye emergencies requiring medical attention include cuts, scratches, objects in the eye, and blunt injuries to the eye or eyelid.  To avoid possible loss of vision, it’s important to seek emergency treatment if any of the following symptoms appear:
  • Eye pain accompanied by redness
  • Nausea or headache with eye pain
  • Change in vision such as blurring or double vision
  • Bleeding or other discharge
  • A scratch, cut, or penetration of the eyeball
Symptoms of a possible detached retina, requiring prompt medical treatment, include:
  • Bright flashes of light, especially in peripheral vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Floaters in the eye
  • Shadow or blindness in a part of the eye’s visual field  


  • American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • The National Institutes of Health
  • The University of Texas Southwestern 


US Travel Insurance Association (UStiA)
UStiA is a national association of insurance carriers, third-party administrators, insurance agencies and related businesses involved in the development, administration and marketing of travel insurance and travel assistance products.