Contact lenses

Can You Swim with Contacts?

Contact lenses can be a great alternative to glasses but it’s important that you know how to use them safely. One of the areas where questions often come up are around contact lenses and water, specifically, can you swim with contacts? As any optician will tell you, you can but it’s a really bad idea.

Contact Lenses and Water

Contact lenses, especially soft lenses absorb any water around them, This alters their shape making them uncomfortable to wear and irritating to your eyes. Eye doctors even advise against showering while wearing contacts.

Rigid gas porous lenses are less prone to water absorption but prone to dislodging when you’re swimming. If you don’t fancy trying to recover your lenses from the bottom of the pool (or the bottom of the ocean!) it’s a much better idea to remove them before you enter the water.

When it comes to swimming with contacts, the expense of a lost lens or some temporary irritation is actually the least serious issues. Swimming or scuba diving with contact lenses has the potential to cause painful and serious eye infections.

Chlorine is Bad for Eyes and For Contact Lenses

You might imagine that swimming with contact lens in a pool that has chlorine in it should be OK. After all, it’s bacteria that cause infections and chlorine kills bacteria, right? Well, right but only to a point. Chlorine reduces the level of bacteria in a swimming pool to the point where there’s no risk in normal circumstances, but it won’t kill all bacteria. The chlorine also degrades the “tear film” of the eye. This is what makes the eye glossy and it protects against bacteria entering into the eye itself. So chlorine will make your eyes more susceptible to bacterial invasion.

Contact Lenses and Swimming in the Sea

Swimming in the ocean at least means that you’re not exposed to chlorine, but unfortunately even the cleanest of seas will be teaming with microorganisms, some of which can be harmful if they get into your eyes. The most dangerous of these is Acanthamoeba, an amoeba which can attach to the contact lens and later work its way into the eye. This can lead to ulceration, or keratitis of the cornea and in the most serious cases can cause loss of vision.

What if You Forgot?

If you accidentally swim with contact lenses don’t panic. There are things you can do after the event that will reduce the risk of infection.

  • Remove the contact lenses and throw them away if at all possible. If you just can’t bear to do that, place them in a cleansing solution for 24 hours
  • Rinse your eyes thoroughly with whatever eyedrop you have available
  • Don’t wear contact lenses again if your eyes feel irritated or uncomfortable
  • If any eye soreness you’re experiencing doesn’t pass within 24 hours, see your doctor

If you decide you’re going to wear contacts while swimming regardless of the risks, add on a pair of waterproof goggles to minimise exposure to the water, chlorine and harmful pathogens. It’s best to use disposable daily contact lenses, throw them away once you’ve finished swimming and rinse your eyes thoroughly before putting fresh lenses in. If you do experience any post-swimming eye irritation leave the lenses out until it resolves and see a doctor if it doesn’t.

The Best Alternative to Swimming with Contact Lenses

The best option is prescription goggles which will correct your vision without putting you at risk from swimming-related eye infections. If you’re planning a snorkelling trip in Cancun, for instance with Koox Diving, you can even invest in a prescription snorkel mask. Whatever vision correction you need, there should be a mask that will take care of it. So you can observe the wonders of the reef and protect your eyesight at the same time.

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