Swimming is a widely loved recreational activity in the UK, with 4.7 million adults using a swimming pool at least twice a month. It is a great way to relax and stay fit, and on those elusive, hot summer days, an excellent way to cool off.
On the flip side, a significant portion of the population depends on contact lenses for clear vision. Contacts offer comfort, convenience, and a more natural field of vision. But what happens when these two common aspects of people’s lives intersect?
A question that often surfaces is, “Can you wear contacts in the pool?” In this article we address this question, providing you with clarity and guidance about the risks and safety measures associated with wearing contact lenses in the pool and any eye problems you may encounter.
Understanding Contact Lenses
Contact lenses are slim, curved lenses that rest directly on your eye’s surface. Their function involves refracting light onto the retina, similar to the cornea, to address various vision problems.
Unlike glasses, which sit in front of your eyes at a distance, contact lenses follow the curvature of your eyes. They provide a wider field of view and less visual distortion. They are a more practical alternative, especially if you’re active or don’t like the aesthetic of glasses.
There are primarily two types of contact lenses: rigid gas permeable (RGP) and soft lenses.
- Soft contact lenses: They are made from flexible plastics, are comfortable and come in various forms like daily, weekly, and monthly disposables.
- RGP lenses: These offer sharper vision and are durable, but require a longer adaptation period.
Your eye care professional will recommend the right type based on your specific vision needs and lifestyle.
Risks of Wearing Contacts in the Pool
Swimming with contact lenses can have some risks in chlorinated water, especially with waterborne microorganisms and the lenses’ ability to absorb chemicals. It’s important to prioritize your eye health and consider these risks before deciding to wear contacts in the pool.
Always take these factors into account and make an informed decision.
The primary risk of wearing contacts in the pool is the potential exposure to harmful microorganisms present in the type of water in swimming pools.
One notable pathogen is Acanthamoeba, a common parasite in recreational water that can cause a severe eye infection, known as Acanthamoeba keratitis (acanthamoeba organism). This can lead to corneal damage, a corneal ulcer and even vision loss if not treated promptly.
Another concern is the absorption of chemicals like chlorine and other disinfectants found in pool water.
These can be absorbed by contact lenses, the chemicals can then irritate the eyes which may lead to conditions like dry eyes or conjunctivitis.
Lens Displacement or Loss
The force of water, particularly when diving into the pool or swimming at high speeds, can cause contact lenses to move out of place or fall out of the eye entirely. This is not only inconvenient but also potentially expensive, especially if you’re using custom-made or specially prescribed lenses.
In addition, losing a lens in the pool can leave you with compromised vision, making it difficult to navigate your way out of the water safely.
Natural Bodies of Water and Eye Health
There are also risks associated with swimming in a natural body of water or fresh water with contact lenses. The water in lakes and oceans is often teeming with microorganisms, including potentially harmful pathogens which pose the risk of serious eye infections.
Infection Risk in Natural Water Bodies
Due to the absence of chlorine, you are exposed to a multitude of other bacteria and parasites that can adhere to your contact lenses. The saltwater in oceans can even cause contact lenses to dry out and adhere to the eye, creating a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive!
Discomfort in Natural Water Bodies
The salinity of ocean water can cause considerable discomfort for contact lens wearers, as the salt can lead to dryness and irritation. Similarly, the presence of other natural substances like algae in lake water can cause discomfort and even allergic reactions.
Alternatives for Swimming
If you want to swim with crystal-clear vision and lower your risk factors, here are some practical alternatives to consider:
- Prescription Swim Goggles: A pair of goggles like this is an excellent solution for swimmers who need vision correction. They are custom-made to match your prescription and are designed to resist fogging and filter harmful UV rays too. The best way is to check with your eye doctor to see what pair of prescription goggles is best.
- Prescription Mask or Snorkel: For divers or snorkelers, prescription masks provide corrected vision and protect your eyes from the water.
- Daily Disposable Contact Lenses: If you absolutely must wear contacts, consider daily disposable lenses. They can be thrown away after a single use, reducing the risk of infection. However, remember to wear waterproof swim goggles over them to minimize the risk of displacement or exposure to waterborne pathogens.
It’s always worth consulting your optometrist to determine the best choice.
Tips for Wearing Contacts in the Pool
If you choose to wear contact lenses while swimming, it’s vital to take several precautions to mitigate the associated risks.
First and foremost, never open your eyes underwater as this increases the likelihood of bacteria or other harmful microorganisms coming into contact with your lenses.
We also recommend wearing airtight swimming goggles over your contacts. This will protect them from direct exposure to water and help prevent them from getting dislodged.
After swimming, it’s important to remove, clean, and disinfect your lenses immediately to get rid of any potential contaminants – we’ll go into more information on how to clean your contact lenses after swimming in the section below. If you’re using daily disposable lenses, discard them right after your swim. If you have sore eyes after swimming and already have eye drops that your doctor recommended, a good option after being in a chlorinated pool is to use them if you have sensitive eyes, it might help to alleviate any short term discomfort and any
If you’re a regular swimmer, then be vigilant about any signs of eye irritation or infection. Tell-tale signs are things like redness, itchiness, or blurred vision. If any of these symptoms occur, remove your contacts immediately and consult your optometrist.
Caring for Contacts Post-Swim
To reduce the risk of infection, proper care for your contact lenses after swimming is vital.
Immediately remove your lenses and thoroughly clean them with a recommended contact lens solution. This will eliminate any debris that might have adhered to your contacts during your swim.
Then disinfect your lenses using a dedicated lens disinfecting solution to remove any pathogens. Avoid using tap water or saline solution, as these aren’t as efficient at removing harmful bacteria.
If you use daily disposables, remember to discard them right after your swim. Do this even if you didn’t open your eyes underwater or you wore goggles. Replace with a fresh pair, or wear a pair of glasses after your swim instead.
Remember, consistency in lens care can significantly minimize the risk of eye infections or irritations. Your eye health is worth the extra minutes spent on lens care!
The overall consensus on the question, “Can you wear contacts in the pool?” is that it comes with some significant risks. Here’s what the experts are saying;
According to a paper from the National Library of Medicine;
“Contact lens wearers have contracted Acanthamoeba from exposure to pools, hot tubs, homemade saline, and from household tap water.”Source
From the specialists at Bauer and Clausen Optometry;
“What might surprise you, though is that chlorine in the pool doesn’t kill all the germs in pool water. Since you can’t be certain what’s floating on and in the water, wearing swim goggles is always a good idea. They help you avoid eye irritation and keep your eyes protected against the not-so-great stuff.”Source
Wearing contact lenses in the pool or different types of water might seem convenient, but it actually puts your eye health at risk. Pool water can introduce harmful pathogens that can cause serious eye infections. The best approach is to use good-quality swimming goggles and make sure to clean and disinfect your lenses properly.
Take care of your eyes and make an informed decision when you go swimming. Remember, your eyes are irreplaceable.