The Do’s and Don’ts of Swimming with Contact Lenses

Swimming is a favorite summer pastime for many, offering relief from the heat and a chance to exercise or relax in the water. However, for contact lens wearers, diving into a pool or hitting the beach raises a crucial question: Is it safe to swim with contact lenses on?

Photo by Roberto Nickson

Understanding the Risks

Waterborne Microorganisms

Water sources such as pools, lakes, and oceans contain microorganisms that can adhere to contact lenses. These include bacteria, viruses, and amoebae. Prolonged exposure to these microorganisms can potentially lead to infections.

Chlorine and Saltwater

Chlorinated pool water and salty ocean water can cause contact lenses to absorb chemicals and lose their shape, leading to discomfort or even eye irritation.

Contact Lens Hygiene

Contact lenses require proper hygiene and maintenance to prevent infections. Swimming with lenses increases the risk of contamination, as water can carry debris and microbes that adhere to the lens surface.

Photo by Jim De Ramos

Potential Consequences

Eye Infections

Waterborne microorganisms can adhere to contact lenses and cause infections such as bacterial keratitis or Acanthamoeba keratitis. These infections can be serious and may lead to vision impairment if not promptly treated.

Discomfort and Irritation

Exposure to chlorine or saltwater can cause lenses to become dry and uncomfortable. This discomfort may result in blurred vision, itching, or redness.

Lens Damage

Chemicals in pool water, especially chlorine, can break down the lens material and affect its durability. This can lead to torn or scratched lenses, compromising vision and requiring replacement.

Preventive Measures

If you’ve chosen to swim with contact lenses despite the risks, remember that doing so is not recommended. However, there are a few precautions you can take to help reduce the chance of an eye infection.

Wear Goggles

To protect your eyes while swimming, consider wearing goggles designed to fit comfortably over your contact lenses. This barrier helps prevent water from coming into contact with your lenses and reduces the risk of contamination.

Daily Disposables

Opt for daily disposable contact lenses if you plan to swim frequently. These lenses are discarded after each use, reducing the likelihood of buildup or contamination from swimming.

Proper Lens Care

If you decide to swim with reusable lenses, dispose of the contact lens and wear a new set. Follow your optometrist’s recommendations for cleaning solutions and hygiene practices.

Photo by Yulianto Poitier

While swimming with contact lenses can be tempting, the potential risks should not be ignored. Waterborne microorganisms, chemicals in pool water, and improper contact lens hygiene can all contribute to eye infections and discomfort. Your eye health is invaluable, so take the necessary precautions to enjoy the waters without compromising your vision.

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Ivan Yong

Dr. Ivan Yong is an optometrist with over 12 years of experience in the optical industry. He earned his doctorate from the Southern California College of Optometry and has practiced in multiple settings, including private practice, community health, and ophthalmology. Dr. Yong aims to expand access to affordable eyewear and improve eye health worldwide.