Glaucoma is a chronic condition that must be treated over the course of one’s life, and high IOP (intraocular eye pressure) must be managed daily. When caught early and treated diligently, vision loss can be halted 95% of the time. This means maintaining regularly scheduled appointments with your eye doctor – ophthalmologist or optometrist – and using your eye drops as prescribed. However, according to research done by the Glaucoma Research Foundation, approximately 40% of patients fail to adhere to their treatment plan, either forgetting to take their medication daily or failing to refill their prescription when it runs out.
“Glaucoma care is a team approach,” says Dr. Gail F. Schwartz in an article for the Glaucoma Research Foundation. “Preventing eye damage only works if the patient follows the treatment plan at home in-between visits to the doctor.”
There is no vacation from glaucoma care…even when you’re on vacation.
What You Need to Know about Summer Glaucoma Drop Compliance
Whether at home or on vacation somewhere exotic, consistency is important when it comes to glaucoma treatment, says Dr. Nicole Regis, consultative optometrist at Anne Arundel Eye Center (AAEC).
“If you are not using your drops consistently, the eye pressure can rise,” says Dr. Regis. “Higher eye pressures and fluctuating eye pressures can cause damage to the optic nerve.”
The optic nerve is responsible for carrying visual information from the eye to the brain. Irreversible vision loss can occur if the optic nerve is damaged.
What if I Forget to Pack My Drops?
With so many items to pack whenever you leave for vacation, it is inevitable that some things falls through the cracks. When that something is your glaucoma medication, it is important to take action fast to ensure your treatment plan isn’t interrupted.
“Missing several doses would cause your eye pressure to increase, which can have long term impact on your vision,” says Dr. Regis. “If you forget to pack your drops, you can typically have your prescription filled at a pharmacy in the area you are traveling.”
You can do this by calling your regular pharmacy and having the prescription transferred to a pharmacy where you are vacationing. Similarly, if you lose or spill your eye drops while on vacation, you can also transfer your prescription to a nearby pharmacy.
“If you need assistance, talk to your pharmacy and then call the office if you have difficulty obtaining the prescription,” says Dr. Regis.
Does Flying Affect Eye Pressure?
When flying, it is normal for a person’s ears to pop due to changes in altitude. So, it’s only natural to assume that eye pressure would also be affect, right? Well, no.
“Airplanes regulate the cabin pressure with the changing altitude and this keeps the eye pressure from changing,” says Dr. Regis.
It is recommended, however, that you keep your eye drops in your carry on bag, especially during long flights. This way, you do not run the risk of missing a scheduled dose. And don’t worry, the bottle sizes are well-within the allowed amount of liquids for air travel. Just be sure to tightly seal your eye drops and place the bottle in a clean, dry bag.
The only time flying might affect a person’s eyes is following a recent surgery.
“Some retina surgeries require a gas bubble in the eye and this would prevent a person from being able to fly for a period of time,” says Dr. Regis. “If you have had recent eye surgery, you should confirm with your doctor that it is okay to fly.”
Will Swimming Affect My Drops?
No summer vacation is complete without a bit of swimming, whether in a pool or in the ocean. One thing glaucoma patients always ask is if swimming will affect their eye drops. The answer is no – if you follow a few simple instructions.
“It is okay to go swimming after your eye drops are in for five minutes,” says Dr. Regis. “We recommend closing your eyes gently for one minute after putting in eye drops to allow the eye drops to absorb.”
It is not recommended, however, that you take your drops with you if you plan to be outside for an extended period of time.
“Most drops should be stored at temperatures up to 77 degrees,” says Dr. Regis. “If the bottle gets too warm, the medication can become less effective.”
Because of this, it is best to leave your eye drops in a clean, dry place – out of direct sunlight. Not only does this ensure your drops maintain an optimal temperature, but it also limits the risk of contamination. If sand, saltwater, or chlorinated water was to contaminate your drops, the medication would be unusable and need to be discarded immediately.
“Material in the bottle may change the efficacy of the drop, and also cause bacterial growth in the bottle and increase the risk of eye infection,” says Dr. Regis.
For many of the same reasons, you should also wash your hands before using eye drops, especially if returning from the pool or beach.
“It is even more important after being exposed to saltwater or chlorinated pools, as the salt and chemicals can cause burning and eye irritation if they get in the eye,” says Dr. Regis. “We recommend washing your hands before touching your eyes, inserting contact lenses and using eye drops.”
What Else Can I Do to Protect My Eyes This Summer?
Whether on vacation or at home, whenever you are outdoors, it is important to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
“Reducing UV exposure helps to protect the eyes and the skin around the eyes,” says Dr. Regis. “UV exposure can accelerate cataract formation and increase the risk of macular degeneration.”
For added protection, polarized lenses are another option to help with glare during the sunny hours of the day.
About Dr. Nicole Regis
Dr. Regis’ background is in glaucoma, refractive and cataract surgery management, neurologic eye disease, corneal disorders, retina and diabetic exams, nursing home care, and emergency eye care. She joined the AAEC team in 2016.
AAEC is a regional leader in the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma and cataracts. Staffed by caring and knowledgeable professionals, like Dr. Regis, AAEC’s state-of-the-art treatment center is dedicated to making the best eye care accessible to everyone.
If you have any questions, the eye care specialists at AAEC by calling 410-224-2010.