Can You Swim With Contact Lenses?

Can You Swim With Contact Lenses Image

The benefits of making the switch to prescription contact lenses is the freedom that wearing contacts gives you. Glasses can fall off or even restrict your vision, especially during a swim. Contact lenses seem like the obvious choice for swimming, but is it safe to swim with your contact lenses in?

Continue reading to learn more from the eye care experts at your local eyecarecenter.

The Risks of Wearing Contacts While Swimming

Any time water — whether from a pool, a lake, or a faucet — gets into your eyes while you're wearing contacts, you risk encountering dangerous bacteria that can cause harmful infections.

You may believe that the chlorine added to the pool’s water eliminates harmful germs, but it’s still not a completely sanitary environment. Though chlorine does kill most germs, it is unable to kill every germ that exists in a swimming pool.

Some viruses and bacteria can even prosper in pool water. Swimming pool chemical composition is constantly changing, allowing dangerous bacteria to develop quickly. Your risk of developing an eye infection increases if you wear contacts in the pool. After swimming with contacts in, your contacts will continue to host harmful bacteria on the surface of the eye.

Even if you don't wear contact lenses, chlorine can be irritating to your eyes. If you find that they are red, irritated, or light-sensitive after swimming, flush your eyes with a saline solution to ease your discomfort.

The Risks of Wearing Contacts in Water

It's not only the water in pools that present a risk for contact lens wearers. There are many types of germs and pathogens circulating in water sources, such as tap water, lake water, and ocean water.

One particularly dangerous germ is a microscopic parasite known as Acanthamoeba. When water containing Acanthamoeba encounters a soft contact lens, it has the potential to change the shape of the lenses or stick to the eye. Soft lenses are especially porous, allowing them to absorb more water than other types of lenses.

That's not just uncomfortable; it's risky. Your cornea, which is the clear dome covering the colored area of your eye, can become scratched. This makes it easier for germs to enter your eye and cause a severe infection.

Once the cornea is scratched, the Acanthamoeba parasite can enter the eye and cause an infection known as Acanthamoeba keratitis¹. This infection can be quite painful and difficult to treat, sometimes persisting for a year or more. In rare cases, it can even lead to blindness.

Conditions That Can Develop Due to Contact Lenses in Water

Although contacts offer great benefits to those who wear them, wearing contact lenses while in water can increase your risk for:

  • Eye irritation

  • Dry eye syndrome, especially from chlorine or saltwater

  • Eye infections

  • Scratches or corneal abrasions

  • Eye inflammation

  • Corneal ulcers

Protecting Your Eyes While Swimming

Although wearing your contacts in the pool is dangerous, there are times when you need them to see. Learning to safely wear your contacts while swimming is very important, as it reduces your risk of developing a harmful eye infection.

If you must wear your contact lenses in the water, follow these suggestions:

  • Reduce the risk of dry eyes by using artificial tears or re-wetting drops before and after swimming.

  • Wear secure, tight-fitting goggles, or purchase a pair of prescription swim goggles

  • Remove contacts immediately after swimming, then clean and disinfect in a contact lens solution for 24 hours

  • Wear daily disposable contact lenses and discard them after swimming

Everyday Precautions for Contacts and Water

Even if you're not a swimmer, you must pay attention to other sources of water when wearing contact lenses. The water source may be filled with dangerous pathogens. The FDA recommends² avoiding all sources of water while wearing contacts, including:

  • Showers

  • Sprinklers

  • Baths

  • Hot tubs

To reduce the risk of infection, it's best to remove contact lenses prior to any of these activities. If water gets into your eyes while wearing your contact lenses, remove them as soon as possible. Then, clean and disinfect them overnight with contact solution. You can also throw the lenses away and start a fresh pair.

While it may be inconvenient to take your contacts out each time you're around water, it will dramatically reduce your risk of an eye infection.

In addition, eyecarecenter recommends always carrying a contact case and solution in case of a contact emergency. This allows you to take your contacts out whenever you need. Be sure to always keep a spare pair of eyeglasses with you as well.

Signs of An Eye Infection

Have you noticed irregular eye issues after swimming or wearing your contacts in water? You may have an eye infection. Here's what to look for:

  • Redness or pain

  • A yellow or mucus-like discharge

  • Light sensitivity

  • Swelling

  • Vision disturbances

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your local eyecarecenter immediately.

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Schedule An Eye Exam Today

If you think you may have an eye infection from swimming with your contacts in, schedule an exam with a skilled eye doctor at your local eyecarecenter. Together, you and your doctor will assess your injury, provide treatment options, and get you back to seeing clearly in no time.