Scleral Lens User Guide: Traveling with scleral lenses
YES, you can!
- DON’T let the prospect of traveling with scleral lenses intimidate you!
- DO your homework fir!
- DO plan and pack carefully!
Key things to consider
- Your scleral lens travel necessities
- Carry-on allowances (domestic US) - theory vs reality
- Carry-on allowances (international)
- Checked baggage
- Finding solutions locally
- Inserting and removing lenses during air travel
- Protecting your eyes in harsh environments
The importance of planning ahead
If you do not absolutely need your scleral lenses - that is, if you can see, or can get through the day comfortably without them, then this whole page is probably moot. You may find it’s just too much trouble to travel with sclerals, and leave them at home.
But for the rest of us, who wouldn’t be able to travel at all without sclerals, it pays to plan carefully for travel.
Ask yourself questions like these:
- How much of everything do I need for this length of trip?
- Which supplies are most vital? Do I have a backup if I lose something?
- What should I put in my carry-on vs my checked baggage? If my luggage were lost, would I be able to cope?
- Can I purchase anything that I need locally?
- Will I remove or insert my lenses during the trip? If so, when, where exactly, and what will I need to have with me?
Scleral lens travel necessities
Everything you need at home, you will need away from home, but you might need smaller or different versions of them. Most people remember solutions and plungers, but what about everything else?
- Hand soap with no moisturizers
- The means to make a sink lens-safe
- A magnifying mirror, or something you can use to check for bubbles
- A towel in case of dropping a lens
- Plungers and lens case, and maybe backups
- Enough saline, cleaning and disinfection solutions, and wetting drops to last through the trip
- Perhaps a small kit with plungers, case and saline vials for use in-flight
Flying: Carry-on vs checked baggage
What will you put in checked baggage and what will you check through?
This can be a hard call. You need to know the restrictions, understand your needs and most importantly, make your decisions before you get to the airport.
It’s not practical to take many bottled solutions in carry-ons. They may not make it through screening even in the US, and outside the US, they almost certainly will not. On the other hand, if you put a lot in your checked baggage and it’s lost or misdirected, do you have a backup plan? For some, the best plan will be to check most of their supplies but to ensure they have enough in their carry-on to cover them for a few days.
By the way, if an airline has never lost your luggage, you might think it can never happen to you. Until it does. It's important to ensure you have insertion and removal devices (if needed) with you, not just in your checked luggage. Imagine getting to your destination on a night or weekend - or arriving at a remote destination - and not having the means to take our your lenses.
Speaking of which, it's important to know how to remove your lenses manually in case of emergency. If you don't know how to do this, check YouTube for instructional videos.
Carry-on allowances - Domestic USA
TSA standard rules provide for liquids in packages of 3.4 oz (100mL) or less, which need to be in a quart-sized recloseable bag. The easiest way to avoid most TSA issues when traveling in the US is stay within this rule.
Which common scleral lens salines meet this standard?
- Purilens Plus 2oz bottles (not 4oz)
- ScleralFil 10mL vials
- LacriPure 5mL vials
- Modudose or Addipak vials (any size)
As for cleaning and disinfection solutions:
- Lobob ESC 2oz size
- Unique pH multi-purpose solution 2oz size
- Boston Simplus travel pack 1 oz size
- ClearCare 3oz size
A special note about Clear Care
Some people take the ClearCare 3oz size for the sake of the catalyst, and purchase 3% hydrogen peroxide (brown bottles) locally for use after the solution runs out.
Also, there have been occasional reports of TSA refusing to allow Clear Care of ANY size through a checkpoint, on the basis that it is hydrogen peroxide (technicaly, an explosive, except that this is of course diluted to 3%). As a result, some travelers may find it more practical to switch temporarily to a multipurpose solution such as Unique pH while traveling.
TSA's 3-1-1 Liquids Rule Exemption states the following:
TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols in reasonable quantities for your trip, but you must declare them to TSA officers at the checkpoint for inspection.
Remove them from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You are not required to place your liquid medication in a plastic zip-top bag. If a liquid, gel, or aerosol declared as medically necessary alarms, then it may require additional screening and may not be allowed.
Agents can and will exercise their own discretion on what they let through.
Some travelers have reported issues with TSA confiscating scleral lens solutions even if they had a letter from a doctor. Since the medical exemption rules are reportedly not always consistently upheld, you may find it safest not to rely upon them, especially if you don't have a backup plan such as purchasing locally. Possibly using TSA PreCheck may make things more consistent or smoother, though.
Carry-on allowances - International
One of the most common mistakes scleral lens users make is to assume that TSA rules apply worldwide. They don’t! TSA is a United States government agency.
Other countries have very different rules. There is nothing magical about bottles 3.4 ounces or less at London's Heathrow or Tokyo's Narita airports. In general, bottled solutions probably won’t make it through a security checkpoint at all.
On the other hand, if you are flying direct to an international destination, and flying direct back to the US but you don’t need any bottled solutions on the way back, you may have no issues at all. Where you will run into difficulty is flight transfers, for example within Europe or Asia, or if you are flying into the US with solutions in your carry-on.
- 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.
Finding solutions locally
Many cruise travelers fly into the cruise departure point and purchase all their solutions locally before the cruise departs. As long as you allow enough time and know exactly where to find what you need, that can work great. The biggest limitation, of course, is salines, since those aren’t typically sold locally, but you could at least get ClearCare or multipurpose solutions locally. On the other hand, if you are going to rely on local sources, make sure you check for any of industry-wide lens solutions shortages first! Sometimes a product that is plentiful in one city is not available in another.
Inserting and removing lenses in public places
For some of us, this is unavoidable. We need our lenses to see our way through the airport, but can’t tolerate having them in the dry airplane environment for a long flight, or need our eyes to be fresh for driving a rental car at the destination. Personally, I leave my lenses in for short flights (<3 hours) then remove and refill them at the destination airport, while for long flights, I take them out in the restroom nearest to my gate just before departure.
No matter where you handle lenses in public, there are hazards:
- Getting jostled and dropping a lens
- Some public restroom sink designs
In-flight: Do it in the lav or at your seat? Everyone has their own preferences. Make sure you bring a towel, either way.
Changing tables: Whether in an airport on a flight with larger lavs, changing tables can provide a larger horizontal (sort of) surface to spread out your gear. Changing tables in a restroom may also be a good way to avoid getting jostled. Hygiene, though, is a different matter!
You really should never 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?
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.
Protecting eyes in harsh environments
This is more of a dry eye issue than a scleral lens issue - but not entirely.
Flying can make your scleral lenses very dry and uncomfortable. Make sure you bring plenty of drops and saline. Onion goggles or some other kind of protective eyewear can help keep your eyes more comfortable while watching movies or working.
Dusty environments will be a problem for sclerals.
If you’re going somewhere hot and sunny in general, and certainly if it's going to be dusty, consider getting quality wrap-around foam-lined sunglasses such as 7Eye AirShield or WileyX Climate Control styles. These will make you windproof and keep particulate matter out of your eyes.
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.
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.