Eye Health Central

Can I wear My Contact Lenses Whilst Swimming

You will have been advised by your optometrist or 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?

It's all about keeping your eyes, clear, bright and healthy.

Here are the most common questions I am asked about contact lenses and water.

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.

Contact Lenses & Swimming

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 wearers who expose their lenses to water, this could be the hot tub, pool, shower, and even tap water, as well as the swimming pool. 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

Increased tearing. 

Without prompt and aggressive treatment, peoples 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 reduce or eliminate bad bacteria, they are also extremely irritating to the eyes. If you’re wearing contact lenses, they will absorb these 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 which can cause intense discomfort and itchiness during and after swimming

Is It Safe To Wear Goggles Over My Contacts When Swimming?

I do not 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, and who hasn't had their goggles fill up with water?

Of course, wearing goggles is better than wearing no protection, but that doesn’t mean they are risk-free.  

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? 

We all make mistakes from time to time. If you ever accidentally swim or shower with your contact lenses in, don’t panic. Simply wash and dry your hands, remove your contact lenses, and throw them away.

I 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 lens solution. It is better to be safe than sorry and discard your lenses and replace them with a fresh pair.

If you have swum in your lenses or they have come into contact with water You should contact your Optometrist immediately if you experience 

  • Sudden Changes in your Vision
  • Eye Redness
  • Eye Pain

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 Feb 2024, Last modified: 20 May 2024