Can You Swim With Contacts?

Swimming with contacts may seem harmless, but it can actually pose various risks to your eye health. When contact lenses interact with water, they can absorb potentially harmful microorganisms present in swimming pools, lakes, rivers, or oceans. This can lead to discomfort, irritation, and an increased risk of developing eye infections. In this blog, we will expand on the dangers of swimming with contacts and why contacts are so susceptible to contamination.

Why Contact Lenses are Susceptible to Contamination\

Soft contact lenses are the most common type worn by people with refractive errors. These lenses are made of either plastic hydrogels or silicone hydrogels, both of which are designed to absorb water to retain moisture and flexibility for maximum comfort.

While the porous nature of hydrogels makes contacts more comfortable to wear, the downside is the same absorbing properties make them more prone to contamination. In other words, the lenses are more likely to absorb harmful pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi in water. These pathogens then stick to the lenses where they can infect the eye.

The Risks of Swimming With Contacts

For people who wear contact lenses to correct refractive errors, it is convenient to leave them in when you go to the pool or beach so you can still see clearly. But if you choose to get in the water while wearing your contacts, know your eyes are at risk.

Eye infections: Rivers, lakes, and oceans can contain harmful pathogens due to contamination from various sources, including human and animal feces, wastewater discharges, and pollution. Even swimming pools, regardless of the presence of chlorine, are home to microorganisms that can infect the eyes. Conjunctivitis (pink eye) and acanthamoeba keratitis are types of eye infections that can occur from swimming with contacts. Acanthamoeba is a type of amoeba found in freshwater that can infect the cornea and, if left untreated, can cause severe pain and possible vision loss or blindness.

Dryness and irritation: Contact lenses can absorb chlorine and other chemicals that can wash away tear film and leave your eyes dry and irritated. Excess water can also cause contacts to feel like they are “stuck” to your eyes, causing issues with comfort.

Cloudy vision: Whether due to the presence of chlorine in pools or organic compounds in fresh water, impurities in water can stick to contact lenses and cause blurry or cloudy vision.

Chemical exposure: While chlorine can help kill bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other harmful microorganisms, this harsh chemical can stick to your lenses and cause redness, irritation, or itchy eyes.

Light sensitivity: A combination of factors can cause your eyes to experience photophobia (sensitivity to light). When exposed to chemicals, irritation and dryness can cause you to be more sensitive to light than normal.
Buildup of deposits: Chronic use of contact lenses while swimming, especially extended wear lenses, can cause deposits to build up on lenses. Contacts rely on tiny holes to allow oxygen to pass through to the eye, and any deposits can disrupt this flow of oxygen and impact eye health. Furthermore, certain types of anaerobic bacteria can thrive when less oxygen is present causing an infection.

How to Reduce the Risk of Contact Lens-Related Issues

The most effective way of lowering contact lens-related infections while swimming is to not wear contacts. For people with poor vision, ask your eye care provider about prescription swimming goggles.

However, if you choose to wear contacts, consider these recommendations:

  • Wear goggles: Tight-fitting goggles can prevent water from coming into contact with your eyes.
  • Use eye drops: Using artificial tears after swimming can help keep the eyes lubricated and help wash away irritants.
  • Choose daily lenses: Single-use lenses can be thrown away after swimming, which reduces the risk of contamination.
  • Remove contact lenses: If you use extended wear lenses, removing them once you finish swimming reduces the time the eyes are exposed to any potential pathogens. The lenses should be disinfected with contact lens solution before being reinserted into the eye.
Comprehensive Eye Care at Dean McGee Eye Institute
It is important to prioritize eye health by taking proper precautions, such as avoiding swimming while wearing contacts. Safeguarding your eyes from potential harm is crucial for maintaining good vision and overall well-being.
If you decide to swim with contacts and find yourself with eye irritation or an infection, contact us to schedule an appointment. One of our trained eye care professionals can conduct a thorough comprehensive eye exam to diagnose the issue.

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