Long-haul travel and your eyes

How to reduce dry eyes during long flights to avoid discomfort

In this article, we’re going to examine how long-haul travel can affect your eyes, as well as steps to avoid these effects and means of treating eyes that may be suffering as a result of long-haul travel.

Definition of long-haul travel

Long-haul travel is the term given to a period of travel that extends over a long period of time. It is a term mostly associated with flying overseas, but it can encompass any mode of transport. There is no definite consensus over what constitutes ‘long-haul’ travel, but UK airlines generally class a flight in excess of seven hours as long-haul.

Can long-haul travel affect your eyes?

The short of it is- yes - long-haul travel can affect your eyes, in more ways than you may expect. Here are a few:

  • Tired and irritable eyes

Along with the obvious symptoms of heavy eyelids and strain, tired eyes can also result in redness, difficulty focusing, blurry vision and increased sensitivity to light. It probably won’t surprise you to find out that the number one cause of tired eyes is sleep deprivation. Tired eyes can bring on the various symptoms, but the one most closely associated with eye tiredness is irritable eyes.

Due to the length of long-haul travel, there’s a decent chance that being on the move is likely to disrupt your usual pattern of sleep. You may be the sort of person who can sleep solidly regardless of your surroundings, but many people just can’t get their head down when they’re on the move.

Your body's circadian pacemaker consists of a group of cells in the hypothalamus area of your brain and its job is to set your internal rhythms. When your pacemaker decides it’s morning, it will send out chemical messages to keep the rest of the cells in the body on the same clock. When you disrupt your sleeping pattern, such as during long-haul travel, you confuse your biological clock and a sense of fatigue can be induced, along with tired and irritable eyes.

This condition can be further exacerbated if you happen to be driving for extended periods of time, as it is a task that requires intense use of the eyes. What's more, driving at night, down street-lit roads, or any form of travelling where you are frequently exposed to bright artificial light can also contribute to tired eyes. This is closely related to ‘Computer Vision Syndrome’, whereby extensive focus on a digital device causes too much strain on the eye, which can also result in eye irritation.

  • Dry and red eyes

Much like tiredness and irritation, dryness and redness are two symptoms that come hand in hand and can easily occur during long-haul travel. Dry eye syndrome can occur when the eye’s tear glands are unable to produce enough tears to lubricate the eye, or when tears evaporate too quickly. This can result in feelings of dryness and soreness, and may also temporarily cause blurred vision.

There are certain factors which impact tear distribution including the frequency at which you blink. When your tear glands produce tears, blinking plays an essential part in spreading them across the surface of the eye. Consequently, if you were to blink an insufficient amount, your tear film can evaporate too quickly and you could be more prone to suffering from eye dryness.

Environmental factors that are known to cause tears to evaporate quickly include wind or blowing air, such as that from an open car window or from air conditioning - or the lack of humidity in an aeroplane cabin may cause people to suffer from dry eyes on plane journeys.

Should you be suffering from dry eyes, as a result of a long-haul journey, your eyes may also go red. You may have noticed that your eyes can become red or bloodshot when you haven’t had enough sleep. In this instance, the tiny blood vessels within the conjunctiva – the membrane covering the white area of the eye – begin to dilate in an attempt to get more oxygen to the cornea and other surfaces of the eye. Consequently, fatigue and insufficient blinking can cause redness.


Steps to avoid the effects of long-haul travel on your eyes

Here are some simple preventative measures that can help ensure long-haul travelling doesn’t take its toll on your eyes too much:

  • Schedule your trip within waking hours if possible, in order to keep in sync with your normal body clock and reduce the possibility of tired, irritable eyes.
  • Close your eyes. It seems like the most obvious solution- and that’s because it is! Getting a bit of shut-eye, whether or not you’re asleep, can help to relieve tiredness and dryness.
  • If you are driving, take regular breaks in order to rest your eyes. If you are sharing the car with others, rotate the driver if possible.
  • Avoid artificial light where possible as this can exacerbate symptoms. When you fly, keep an eye mask handy to block out light and give your eyes some rest.


Treating eyes affected by long-haul travel

If you’ve done the best you can to avoid the effects of long-haul travel and you’re still suffering, there are various quick and easy-to-use treatments available:

  • Applying a warm compress over closed eyes can provide relief from tiredness and dryness

Alternatively, before you fly, check out the Optrex range of eye treatments:

  • Lubricant eye drops are available to help provide relief for dry eyes
  • There are specifically designed eye drops available to combat irritable eyes
  • Eyewash cleanses and soothes eyes suffering from irritation and discomfort
  • Actimist Eye spray is easy to apply and helps to relieve dry eye symptoms such as irritation and tiredness due to a disturbed lipid layer of the tear film.

Long-haul travel can pose a challenge as sleep deprivation is a prime offender, as well as air conditioning and exposure to artificial light also playing their part. However, Optrex can help you combat their effects, so find out more about the range of Optrex products by clicking this link.

Bon voyage!