Scleral Lens Tutorial 10 - Traveling with scleral lenses

 

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You can do it!

Traveling with scleral lenses presents challenges. But... you can do it! The most important thing is to understand what issues can arise and be prepared, and have a plan for how to get all your supplies safely to your destination.
 
  • DON’T let the prospect of traveling with scleral lenses intimidate you!
  • DO your homework fir!
  • DO plan and pack carefully!

Can I wear my lenses in flight?

Many of us do! But some planning is very helpful. Things to consider include:

Vision

If your vision is not correctible with glasses, as is the case for many scleral lens users, just getting around in the airport is a problem if you do not wear your lenses at least as far as your departure gate. Personally, for long flights I tend to remove my lenses in the restroom closest to my gate, but for others with worse vision that may not be feasible.

Comfort: Drink up, lube up, cover up!

Airports, with their dry air and fluorescent lights, are hard on people with dry eye disease whether or not they are wearing sclerals. "Airplane air" is almost as bad as it can get for the eyes. Some people cannot wear their lenses in flight because of the harsh environment, while others find the lenses help them tolerate it better. 

If you have dry eye and don't plan to wear your lenses in flight, you'll want to max out on other forms of protection. If you are wearing your lenses in flight, they'll be much more liable to become dry, blurry and uncomfortable during the flight.

So: Stay hydrated, keep your eyes and lenses lubricated, and, if possible, wear dry eye glasses or goggles. These things will also help you in overheated or air conditioned hotel rooms and outdoors in dry climates.

Flight length

Short flights (2-3 hours) may be fine. But on long flights, and especially overnight flights, chances are you will need to either fly without your lenses or remove them during the flight.

Lens insertion and removal

At the airport? Where and when? Restroom near the departure gate? First restroom at the destination airport? Concerns include getting jostled in crowded restrooms, and taking precautions to cover the sink or counter space you're using. TIP: Look for a family restroom, or use a changing table.

In flight? There is no good way to do this. And yet, you'll find a way if you need to, At your seat, as some do? In the lavatory? Both ways are challenging. Don't forget the towel!

In-flight napping

You really shouldn't sleep with your scleral lenses in.

If you want to nap during the flight, plan ahead for where and when to remove your lenses. Some people are comfortable removing lenses at their seat, others in the lav. But wherever you do it, make sure you have the proper equipment! As a minimum, you'll need a towel (the last thing you want is a lens bouncing) and of course your case and solutions, and possibly a mirror unless you're comfortable removing them without one.

What if I fall asleep without intending to? It's not the end of the world, but it's best to keep your lenses hydrated with some saline or drops, and remove and refill them at the first opportunity.

Carry-on bag(s): What to take?

What SHOULD you take?

  1. Anything you need in flight
  2. Anything you can't live without if your checked baggage goes astray
  3. Anything you can't readily replace at your destination

...But what CAN you take through security?

This question is all about the liquids: drops, salines, and cleaning and disinfection solutions. There are size limitations and also substance restrictions.

COMPLIANT LIQUIDS: Within the TSA 3-1-1 rule, you can take multiple liquids in containers up to 3.4oz, all placed in a single quartz-sized clear plastic bag. However, it's important to note that hydrogen peroxide is considered an explosive and on this basis, sometimes TSA agents refuse to allow Clear Care solution through security, even though it is clearly labeled as a contact lens solution. As a result, we recommend traveling with multi-purpose solution instead and putting Clear Care in your checked baggage if necessary.

MEDICAL EXCEPTION: Under the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule Exemption, you can take "larger amounts of medically necessary liquids... in reasonable quantities... but you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint." This means you can "probably" take them, but at the discretion of agents, so if you are risk-averse, it's better to stay within 3-1-1.

INTERNATIONAL: Once you're outside the USA, both the 3-1-1 rule and the medical exemption are completely irrelevant. It is very important that you research what's allowed in the countries you are traveling to or through. Some, like London Heathrow and Tokyo Narita, are notorious for grabbing those Purilens bottles or even smaller containers of saline. 

Tips for international travel with sclerals:

  • Contact the airline(s) you are flying with for country-specific restrictions, for any country you are traveling to or through.
  • We advise against traveling internationally with Purilens, ClearCare, or any bottled multi-purpose solutions in your carry-on.
  • Bring plenty of the smallest size unit-dose vials of salines in your carry-on, as well as artificial tears, for immediate needs.

Exceptions? It's ALWAYS the agent's call. 

Ultimately, decisions about what will pass through security are at the discretion of the security agent. You can argue, but neither the rules nor your doctor's letter of medical necessity will guarantee success. This is why we recommend always complying with the 3-1-1 rule (or equivalent in the country to/through which you are traveling), unless you have an acceptable back-up plan.

BEWARE of unexpected gate-checking!

What if your scleral lens supplies are in your carry-on, but at the last minute you are forced to gate-check it because there isn't room in the overheads? One of our members found himself in this predicament, and suggests that you make sure your essentials are in your "personal item", not a checkable carry-on bag. 

Tip from a frequent flier: Tell the gate agent that your medical supplies are in your carry-on, so that they help ensure you can bring it on board.

Carry-on checklist

This is our recommendation of what to take in your carry-on if you don't want to rely on a medical exemption. This assumes that any additional items are either put in checked bags or can be purchased at the destination. Long trips require more careful advanced planning and probably a lot of solutions in your checked baggage.

 Suggested solutions (1-quart bag) Insertion/Removal

Scleralfil or Nutrifill vials or Purilens Mini 2oz bottles, enough to last the trip

Unique pH 2.5oz (or equivalent MPS under the 3.4oz limit)

1oz Optical Soap

Insertion & removal plungers

Alcohol preps

Hand towel to cover workspace

Small mirror

 

Backup lenses

If you are dependent on your lenses for vision, and especially if you are going on a long trip, you'd be wise to take a backup pair along in case of lens loss or breakage.

What about my checked baggage?

48-hour rule

A helpful rule of thumb is not to put anything in your checked bag(s) that you will need during the first 48 hours of your trip. This allows at least some time for recovery of missing bags, or replacement of missing items. However, if you are traveling internationally, you may need to allow more time.

Otherwise, checked baggage is the best place for your Clear Care, Purilens Plus, oversize multipurpose solutions, or large quantities of individual saline vials.

Don't rely on TSA rules beyond USA borders!

TSA rules only apply within the USA. A common mistake for American scleral lens users is to rely on these rules when traveling in Europe or Asia.

Can I buy it when I get there?

This depends, obviously, on where you're going and whether you'll have time. If you're flying to a port for a cruise, for example, and plan on picking up your supplies before boarding, make sure you allow time for flight delays just in case.

If you're traveling internationally, some research is in order. Ask the Facebook scleral lens group about availability of equivalent products sold in local pharmacies. Depending on your specific needs, you're probably best off bringing it all with you in checked baggage if possible.

A useful travel blog

Check out Sara Lynn Hartman's blog. Sara has blogged extensively about traveling with sclerals, including going on safari in Tanzania. Her detailed account of what she took and why, and how things played out, is invaluable.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. THIS GUIDE IS COMPRISED OF PEER-TO-PEER SUGGESTIONS, NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. CONSULT YOUR EYE DOCTOR WITH ALL YOUR EYE CARE AND LENS QUESTIONS.