Can I Swim In A Swimming Pool With Contacts In?
The short answer is NO. Swimming whilst wearing contact lenses can result in health problems ranging from irritation to permanent blindness. Chemicals, organisms, microbes, bacteria and/or viruses can absorb into or attach to the lenses and cause these problems.
According to the Association of Optometrists (AOP), Swimming-related eye infections are possible in anyone but contact lens wearers are at far greater risk than the rest of the population.
You will have been advised by your contact lens fitter never to wear contact lenses in water, but have you ever wondered why eye care professionals are 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 grip on the naked eye or skin. If you wear your contact lenses while swimming, however, they provide microscopic bacteria etc with a perfect breeding ground and can hold these unwanted organisms close to the eye for longer, enabling them 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 expose their lenses to water and this could be your hot tub, pool, shower and even tap water, 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 who 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 chlorinated 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.
Is It Safe To Wear Goggles Over My Contacts When Swimming?
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.
If you swim a lot it is worth investing in a pair of prescription goggles to use when you are swimming.
What To Do If You Accidentally Swim With Contacts In?
Hey, we all make mistakes from time to time. If you ever accidentally swim or shower with your contacts in, 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 a contact solution. It is better to be safe than sorry and discard your lenses and replace them with a fresh pair.
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: 3 Jan 2023