Eye Health Central

Can you swim or wear contact lenses in the swimming pool?

Can you Wear Contact Lenses in the pool?

Can I swim in a Swimming Pool with Contacts in?

Contact Lenses & SwimmingThe short answer is NO. Swimming with contact lenses on your eyes can result in health problems ranging from irritation to permanent blindness. Chemicals, organisms, microbes, bacteria and/or viruses can absorb in to or attach to the lenses and cause these problems.

Why are eye care professionals so strict on this no-water policy? Keep reading and you’ll discover why it’s so important for you to keep your contacts as far from water as possible. In addition to going over the dangers of exposing contacts to water, this post will explore a few solutions to help all you contacts-wearing swimmers safely see underwater.     

Why Is Swimming With Contacts Such A Bad Idea?    

Unfortunately, contact lenses are a perfect landing pad for many waterborne bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Although these microscopic organisms are all around us, they usually can’t get a firm gripping on the naked eye or skin. If you wear your contact lenses while swimming, however, it provides them with a hospitable environment to grow and infect your eyes. 

The most dangerous of these eye infections is known as Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK). Caused by a microorganism known as Acanthamoeba, this eye infection is almost exclusively seen in contact lens patients who either exposed their lenses to water and this can be tap water, your hot tub, pool, and even in your shower, as well as the swimming pool. It is interesting that it is very rare to become infected with AK in normal life - almost all incidents of being infected occur in contact lens wearers that expose their lenses to water. 

Once Acanthamoeba attaches to your contact lens, it can easily spread to your corneas and cause significant damage. Typical warning signs of an AK infection include intense eye pain, eye redness, and increased tearing. Without prompt and aggressive treatment, patients with AK could permanently lose their vision. Even with a corneal transplant, there’s no guarantee you’ll recover 100% of your vision after an AK infection.  

Another issue with wearing contact lenses in swimming pools has to do with chemical additives. While compounds like chlorine help keep away bad bacteria, they are also extremely irritating to the eyes. Obviously, if you’re wearing contact lenses, they will absorb harmful chemicals and cause significant eye pain and irritation.  

On top of all these serious issues, contact lenses tend to tighten in patients’ eyes when exposed to water. Even if you’re fortunate enough not to contract one of the diseases listed above, you’ll most likely feel intense discomfort and itchiness while you’re swimming.  

What About Wearing Goggles Over My Contacts?

Most optometrists don’t recommend wearing goggles over your contacts when you go for a dip. True, goggles might prevent many harmful organisms from attaching to your lenses, but the risk is still there. This is especially the case if you don’t have airtight goggles that have been fitted to your face. 

In short, the risks of wearing contact lenses near water far outweigh the convenience of wearing goggles. Of course, wearing goggles is better than wearing no protection, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them.  

It is advisable to get a pair of prescription goggles to sue when you are swimming.

What To Do If You Accidentally Swim With Contacts On? 

Hey, we all make mistakes from time to time. If you ever accidentally swim or shower with your contacts on, don’t panic. Simply wash and dry your hands, take your contact lenses out, and throw them away.

Optometrists never recommend using contact lenses that have been exposed to water. Even if you douse your contacts with a ton of disinfectant solution, microorganisms like Acanthamoeba are extremely resilient. It’s not unheard of for Acanthamoeba to live for days on your contact lenses even after you’ve rinsed your lenses with contact solution. It is better to be safe than   sorry and discard that pair of lenses.

Of course, if you experience sudden changes in your vision, eye redness, or eye pain, you should contact your optometrist immediately. The faster you receive treatment for AK and other water-related infections, the higher the chance you have of recovering your vision.

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 19 Oct 2017, Last modified: 11 Sep 2020