Does this sound familiar?
You’re taking off on a business trip or vacation, and you pack everything you need. Your flight is easy enough, and you land at your destination, feeling fine.
But when you look in the mirror, you find that your eyes look like you’ve been up all night at a rave. You have a case of bloodshot eyes after flying. Womp womp.
Bloodshot eyes rank high on the list of things you don’t want to deal with while traveling. We’ll explain why this is happening, what you can do to fix it, and how to prevent it from happening before you take off.
Why Are My Eyes Bloodshot After Flying?
Bloodshot or “red eyes” happen when blood vessels near the eye’s surface get bigger and dilated.
When there is not enough natural lubrication (tears) to keep your eyes hydrated, they can get dry and red, leaving you with that bloodshot look.
When you’re flying, the conditions inside the plane can lead to bloodshot eyes. The combination of the temperature inside the plane, the pressure-controlled cabin, and dry cabin air can make your eyes extremely dry, leading to bloodshot eyes.
Ozone levels can also play a role. A recent study found that the ozone concentration inside the plane could be to blame for bloodshot eyes, especially if you’ve been on a long flight[*]. The ozone concentration can lead to dry, red eyes, and nasal congestion.
Ozone concentration levels inside the cabin can be affected by several factors, including the plane’s ventilation system, the atmosphere outside, as well as the density of the passengers. Although bloodshot eyes can happen during any flight length, they tend to be more common on longer flights because you’re exposed to the conditions inside the plane for longer.
Finally, if you’re crossing timezones or flying overnight when you’d normally be sleeping, your eyes aren’t getting the restoration they require to produce natural lubrication and repair any small daily damage. Hence the aptly named “red eye flight”!
How to Avoid Bloodshot Eyes When Flying
While you can’t control the air pressure or temperature inside the entire plane, there are steps you can take to minimize bloodshot eyes when flying.
#1. Control Your Air Vents
Bloodshot eyes after flying are often caused by a lack of lubrication in the eye. Cabin air is extremely dry, and forced-air blowing directly into your eyes isn’t going to help.
Check the air conditioning vent above your seat. Is it blowing directly into your eyes? If so, this is going to dry them out even more. Close the vent and your eyes will thank you.
#2. Avoid Contact Lenses
If you wear your contact lenses 24/7, switch to glasses during the flight. Contact lenses can dry your eyes out under normal conditions. Add the dry air of the airplane cabin, and you’re increasing your risk of dry, red eyes. Wearing your glasses gives your eyes the break they need in flight.
#3. Catch Some Sleep on Your Flight
It’s tough to fall asleep on a plane. Noise from other passengers, bright cabin lights, and cramped seating can make it next to impossible to catch some shut-eye.
During sleep, your body recovers from the minor traumas of the day and produces the lubrication your eyes need. So don’t avoid sleep on your flight, if you can.
If you do plan to make the smart choice and catch a nap on your flight, make sure you:
- Remove any eye makeup before doing so. Makeup doesn’t do your eyes any favors, especially when you’re sleeping. Remove your makeup before sleeping on your flight to avoid bloodshot eyes.
- Wear an eye mask. You won’t be the only doing it! While it can’t eliminate your exposure to the dry air, it can reduce it while you sleep. This can minimize red, dry eyes when you wake up.
With these strategies plus a little sleep, you should be able to reduce the likelihood of bloodshot eyes when you travel.
#4. Avoid Alcohol & Caffeine
Early morning flights can make people want to grab a cup of coffee or tea before takeoff or during the flight. Those caffeinated drinks can make you dehydrated. This can contribute to dry, bloodshot eyes.
The same is true for alcoholic beverages. While you may want to grab a cocktail to start your vacation early, you may arrive with red eyes.
To avoid this, stay hydrated. Water is the best choice when you’re flying. If you just can’t resist having a cup of coffee or an alcoholic beverage, be sure to drink plenty of water afterward to help minimize your red-eye risk.
#5. Eat Healthy Foods
Watch what you eat before you get on the plane. Processed foods, fast food, and dairy products can cause inflammation when eaten in excess. Instead, opt for foods that are known to reduce inflammation, such as nuts and seeds.
5 Tips to Treat Bloodshot Eyes After Flying
If you arrive at your destination with dry, bloodshot eyes, it’s time to do some damage control. Here are several ways to treat bloodshot eyes.
#1. Stay Hydrated.
Drink more water. If you didn’t drink enough water during the flight, start drinking now.
Every part of your body needs water to stay healthy, especially when you fly. Cabin air is drier than the Sahara desert, with humidity levels far below the average.
Drinking more water on travel days will help to rehydrate your body and reduce bloodshot eyes by helping your eyes make natural tears and avoid becoming dry.
If you need a little electrolyte boost, you can take Flight Elixir after your flight, too. It was formulated with coconut water crystals to replenish electrolytes and help your cells absorb and hold onto water.
#2. Apply a Cool Compress Over Your Closed Eyes
This can help to relieve the dryness, swelling, and any itchiness. It can also give your eyes a little energy boost to start your trip. Cold compresses work for bloodshot eyes because they shrink the blood vessels around the eyes.
If you fell asleep on the plane, a cold compress can also reduce any puffiness around your eyes.
Run a washcloth under cold water, close your eyes, and apply the compress. Keep the cold compress on for 15 to 20 minutes. This should do the trick. If your eyes are still bloodshot, you can repeat in about a half-hour.
#3. Apply a Warm Compress
You can also try a warm compress over your closed eyes since some people prefer a warm compress over a cold one.
A warm compress can increase blood flow to the area and increase oil production on your eyelids. This can help your eyes get re-lubricated and feel less itchy.
A warm compress also helps to stimulate the glands that produce your natural tears, which can reduce dry, red eyes.
Soak a washcloth in warm water. Be sure that the water is not too hot because that will only irritate your eyes more. Leave the compress on for about 15 minutes or less if it becomes too cold. If your eyes are still bothering you, you can re-soak the washcloth in warm water and reapply.
#4. Use Artificial Tears
Use artificial tears or another lubricant.
If you know you’re prone to dry eyes after flying, pack a bottle of artificial tears. You can use this during the flight or when you land. It will add moisture to your eyes to prevent them from drying out and getting red.
If you’re prone to extremely dry eyes that over-the-counter artificial tears can’t help, see your doctor before your trip. You may be able to get a product that’s more effective for reducing dryness and redness.
#5. Try Tea Bags
If you can get your hands on tea bags, they can also help to treat bloodshot eyes after flying.
Teabags can help treat irritated blood vessels that lead to bloodshot eyes. Specifically, the caffeine found in black and green teas is thought to treat inflamed blood vessels. Herbal teas, such as chamomile, may also be good to reduce inflammation and irritation.
They’re used the same way as a warm or cold compress, take your pick.
Steep two tea bags in hot water and then squeeze out the liquid. If you’re going to use them as cold compresses, cool them in the refrigerator. If you’re going to use them as warm compresses, let them cool down a bit on the counter.
Don’t put them on your eyes right after seeping them. They will be too hot and can damage your skin. When the tea bags feel as though they’re at the right temperature, place them on your eyes for 15 minutes. You should see and feel relief.
How Long Will Bloodshot Eyes Last?
While bloodshot eyes due to serious eye conditions can take up to a week or more to clear up, your bloodshot eyes after flying should take less. Generally, keeping hydrating and getting a good night’s sleep (not on the plane) can help bloodshot eyes go away quickly.
Remembering to take care of yourself before you fly can help to avoid bloodshot eyes. If it happens despite your efforts, treat them as quickly as possible so that you can enjoy your trip.