Can you swim with contact lenses?
Sure, but is it a good idea?
No, no it is not.
In a chlorinated pool, the chlorine (a chemical similar to bleach) strips away the protective layer of "tear film" in your eyes. This "film" is the barrier keeping bacteria and germs out. Once it is gone, your contact then acts as a sticky bandaid for all the germs it comes into contact with. And holds them close to your eyeball, with direct access to your cornea. Gross (and unsafe).
In a lake or other water source, your contacts will absorb some of the water you are swimming in (most contacts are made with hydrophilic plastic. Hydrophilic being a fancy word for water-absorbing...and is the same reason why you use contact solution, not water, to store or clean your contacts.) So now that you’re in the lake, your contact sponge is holding the water germs in it, next to your eyeballs.
But what’s the big deal?
On a good day you might just end up with dry, irritated eyes after swimming. Those irritated eyes get itchy, and when you go to rub them (DON’T DO IT!) Any bacteria on your fingers is now also introduced to your eye.
On a bad day you could be the lucky winner of:
Pink eye (conjunctivitis) - Yes the same highly-contagious germ that makes kids stay home from school. Pink eye causes redness, irritation and requires a prescription to treat the infection. You don’t even have to come into contact with feces or another person carrying the bacteria, the fact that they are in the water along with you is enough for those germs to swim around and find new hosts (you).
Acanthamoeba keratitis - a fancy name for an even more dangerous eye infection that can threaten your vision, if not treated promptly. It’s known for creating ulcers on the cornea, and can create vision impairment and blindness. It is actually classified as a parasite, and because it forms cysts in your eye, can be very hard to treat. The inflammation it causes is painful. Treatment can be six months to a year. We recommend avoiding it in the first place.
So what do I do?
Remove the contacts before you get in the water. If you have disposables, then put in a new pair after your swim is done.
If you still need your contacts in the water, wearing goggles is a pretty good way of steering clear of germs and potential eye hazards while swimming. They create a barrier between you and the germs and allow you to see.
An even safer way to go is to remove the contacts completely and get prescription goggles for your swimming adventures. These work great, especially for those people who swim a lot. Scuba dive? We can order these in office and are happy to help get you sorted! Click here to come on in!
Oops, but I already swam in my contacts! What now?
Remove them from your eye immediately. Rinse out your eyeball with drops that you have at home (or get over the counter) to flush out any bacteria and help replace the “tear film”. Wait until all redness and irritation are gone before putting in new contacts. Your glasses will be your best friend during this time. If irritation persists, please call us to get an appointment with one of our eye doctors, letting us know your symptoms and when it started.
What else don’t you want in your eye? Find out about the dangers of eyelash extensions in our blog post.
Here in Seattle at Eyes On You our main concern is your well-being, and vision health. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to contact us.