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It's summertime again and for many people this means travel, warm weather and outdoor activities. For those with glaucoma, the summer season can present new challenges.
The following are tips addressing some of the more common issues of the season.
Glaucoma and Air Travel
Air travel rarely has any effect on intraocular pressure (IOP). Because the air pressure within the cabin is carefully regulated as the plane ascends and descends, there is little change in eye pressure. Air travel does affect the volume of gases in the air. This may be important to those who have recently had retinal surgery. At the time of surgery, a gas bubble is placed in the eye to help keep the retina in place. The bubble is usually present for 6-8 weeks. Changes in altitude may cause the gas bubble to expand and cause increased IOP. Those receiving a gas bubble during retinal surgery are usually advised to avoid air travel.
In contrast, gas bubbles are not used for glaucoma surgery. People with glaucoma usually do not have air travel restrictions after surgery. However, it is always best to consult with your eye doctor before traveling, especially after any kind of eye surgery.
Because air in the cabin can become dry, artificial tears may be helpful for use on a long flight. As with any other medication, carry your glaucoma medication on board with you. This will prevent any missed doses associated with delays, lengthy flights, or lost luggage. Also, make sure the bottle caps are tightly sealed to prevent leakage.
Ultraviolet Light and Glare
Studies show permanent damage to the eyes can result from prolonged sun exposure without adequate protection. Ultraviolet light (UV), especially reflected off of high glare surfaces like sand, water, or pavement, can produce a burn on the surface of the eye (cornea and conjunctiva). Long-term exposure can affect not only the eye’s surface, but also the internal structures including the lens and retina.
Unprotected exposure to UV light is a risk factor in the development of several eye disorders including cataracts (clouding of the lens) and macular degeneration (breakdown of the macula). Those who spend considerable amounts of time in the sun and those who live at high elevations or near the equator, where UV levels are increased, are at highest risk for eye damage by UV light. Also at increased risk are those who have had cataract surgery. A cataract surgery replaces the natural lens of the eye with a synthetic one. Older synthetic lenses were more vulnerable to the effect of the sun and UV light. However, newer synthetic lenses are tinted to block out much of the damaging UV rays.
In addition to UV concerns, glaucoma can cause eyes to be highly sensitive to glare. You can increase your comfort and protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Sunglasses can screen out almost 99-100 percent of UV light and minimize glare.
Most pharmaceutical companies recommend storing medications at temperatures between 59-86° Fahrenheit. However, if your travels take you to a very hot climate this summer, your eyedrops should be fine as long as they are not subjected to hot temperatures for extended periods of time (more than several days).
The package insert that comes with your glaucoma medication will provide the information you need regarding storage requirements. If you still have questions, talk with your pharmacist or call the drug manufacturer’s consumer relations representative.
Glaucoma and Allergies
Antihistamines and decongestants contained in many allergy medications can have many side effects, one of which is the dilation of the pupil. In rare instances, this can cause an acute glaucoma attack in individuals whose anterior chamber angles are anatomically narrow (narrow-angle glaucoma or angle-closure glaucoma). However, this is uncommon and the use of antihistamines is usually acceptable for those with glaucoma. Antihistamines are not known to have any adverse reactions with glaucoma medications.
In regards to eye allergies, it is best to consult your eye doctor. There are different types of prescription treatments for eye allergies. Be sure to see an eye doctor for prescription information or if you experience unusual ocular pain, tearing, itching or swelling.
If you have had glaucoma surgery, don’t ignore a red eye. Early signs of a severe infection can be redness, mucus discharge, a change in vision and/or pain in the eye that had surgery. Itching is not typically associated with this type of infection. When in doubt, contact your eye doctor promptly; infections specific to postoperative eyes, while rare, can be serious, and early treatment is important.
Thanks to Gail F. Schwartz, MD, a glaucoma specialist at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD, for her contributions to this article.
Last reviewed on August 16, 2011