Summer’s here, and you and your family are probably looking forward to leisurely days at the pool or a beach vacation. For the sake of convenience, you may be tempted to dive into the pool or ocean before removing your contact lenses. Here’s why your eye doctor says that’s a bad idea:
Why You Shouldn’t Wear Contact Lenses When Swimming
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that contact lenses should not be exposed to any forms of water. You may think that chlorinated water in a pool is clean and germ-free, making it an exception to this rule. But that’s not the case. Chlorine, basically, is bleach for water. This means that getting chlorine in your eye is the same as having diluted bleach splashed into your eyes.
Chlorine causes your tear film to disintegrate. Apart from making your eyes dry and irritated, it strips away the protective layer of moisture. As a result, germs and microbes have a direct channel to settle on your cornea. So, chlorine in pools actually increases the risk of bacteria getting into your eyes.
Saltwater and fresh water aren’t any better. All types of water, whether from a tap, pool, or salty or fresh water, are home to microbes that can cause eye irritations, eye infections and, worse, potentially sight-threatening conditions, like corneal ulcers.
What Happens When Your Contact Lenses Come Into Contact With Water
If your contact lenses come into contact with water, they could get swollen and distorted. They may also stick to your eyes. In addition, rigid gas-permeable (RGP) contact lenses can easily be dislodged from your eyes when you’re swimming in the water. As a result, the chlorinated, salty or fresh water can easily rinse away your eyes’ natural lubrication, making your eyes red, dry and irritated.
Soft contact lenses, on the other hand, are usually porous and can absorb water, including any microbes in the water. This makes it easy for bacteria to settle in your eyes. Some of the most aggressive waterborne organisms are Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acanthamoeba. They attach to contact lenses and can cause a corneal infection that’s painful and can even lead to blindness when left untreated.
Acanthamoeba keratitis, in particular, may lead to the development of ulcers on your cornea. People who swim with their contact lenses in are at a higher risk of developing this problem. This condition can lead to permanent visual impairment or even blindness. It may require corneal transplantation.
Conjunctivitis or pink eye is another eye condition you can get from swimming with contact lenses. Bacteria and viruses are good swimmers, and the chlorine levels in swimming pools are not strong enough to kill them. They also thrive in freshwater and saltwater.
What to Do When Water Gets in Your Contact Lenses
If you accidentally jump into the water before removing your contact lenses, remove them immediately from your eyes. Then, throw them away. Use eyedrops to help flush out irritants from your eyes. Hopefully, doing so will remove the microorganisms from the water that have entered your eyes. The eyedrops can also help moisturize your eyes, rebuilding your tear film layer.
Afterward, call your eye clinic and schedule a comprehensive eye exams so we can check for any possible eye contaminations. Before putting new contact lenses in your eyes, make sure your eyes are not irritated anymore. It may be best for you to wear eyeglasses for the rest of the day.
Good Eyewear Alternatives
If you must wear contact lenses while swimming, the most effective way to reduce your risk of infection is to wear swim goggles simultaneously. Apart from shielding your eyes from waterborne contaminants, having swim goggles on can also reduce the chances of your contact lenses being dislodged from your eyes.
You can also ask your eye care specialist about prescription swimming goggles. These are custom-made swim goggles engineered with your specific prescription to correct your refractive error. This way, you can see clearly in the water without the risk of infection. You can also have them upgraded with an ultraviolet (UV) protective coating.
Orthokeratology or ortho-k is something you can consider as well. It’s a non-surgical way to reshape your corneal surface, reducing your dependence on eyeglasses or contact lenses. With ortho-k, you’ll have to wear the lenses while you sleep. They are specifically designed to alter your cornea overnight, so you can wake up to sharper vision the next day. Effects can last a whole day.
Another good option is to undergo laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis or LASIK. This is a great option for people who play sports or lead particularly active lifestyles. It offers a relatively permanent solution to correcting refractive errors. It reshapes your cornea using a laser beam, allowing your eyes to properly focus light rays on your retina. Many patients report not needing to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses afterward, which means you can freely swim underwater without having any eyewear on.
Remember that you should never reuse contact lenses that you wore while in the pool or in the ocean. While most contact lens solutions can kill some germs, they are not that strong, even if you submerge your lenses overnight.
To learn more about contact lenses, eyewear alternatives or if you have other eye care concerns, call us at (702) 744-8005 for North Las Vegas, (702) 723-4008 for Boca Park or (702) 357-8202 for Southwest Las Vegas. You can also fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We serve North Las Vegas, Southwest Las Vegas and the surrounding NV communities.