Can you swim with contact lenses?

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Many individuals who wear contact lenses may rely on them to maintain clear vision while swimming. However, wearing contact lenses while engaging in water activities can pose various risks to eye health. In fact, exposing contact lenses to any form of water, whether it be in a pool, lake, or shower, can increase the likelihood of developing several eye-related problems. Let's explore the dangers associated with swimming while wearing contact lenses, as well as the measures you can take to safeguard your eyes while in the water.

What are the risks of swimming with contact lenses?

Wearing contact lenses while swimming can be particularly hazardous due to the prolonged exposure. The lenses have the potential to absorb water, thereby trapping bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens against the surface of the eye.

Furthermore, swimming in natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and oceans can be riskier compared to swimming in pools. This is because these bodies of water are more likely to harbor different types of bacteria, viruses, and harmful pathogens that may not be effectively eliminated by pool chemicals.

However, this does not imply that wearing contact lenses in a pool is safe. Chlorine and other pool chemicals are unable to eradicate all pathogens. Soft lenses, in particular, have microscopic openings through which pathogens and pool chemicals can penetrate the eye.

Wearing contact lenses while swimming can increase the risk of the following eye issues:

  • Eye irritation caused by lenses adhering to the eyes.
  • Dry eye syndrome, especially when swimming in chlorinated or saltwater environments.
  • Eye infections.
  • Corneal abrasions or scratches.
  • Eye inflammation (uveitis).
  • Corneal ulcers.

Is it safe to wear contact lenses while showering?

Apart from using sterile contact lens solutions, any form of water can be harmful if it comes into contact with your eyes while wearing contact lenses. The risks associated with showering while wearing contact lenses are similar to those of swimming while wearing them. It increases the chances of experiencing dry eyes, eye infections, and inflammation.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified a type of amoeba called Acanthamoeba, which can be found in all types of water but is more prevalent in tap water or well water typically used for showering. This amoeba can cause a severe eye infection known as Acanthamoeba keratitis. Acanthamoeba keratitis is painful, challenging to treat, and, in rare cases, can lead to blindness.

If it is necessary to shower while wearing contact lenses, it is crucial to remove them immediately after showering. Subsequently, soak them in disinfecting contact solution for a duration of 24 hours.

Safety tips for swimming with contact lenses

If it is unavoidable for you to swim while wearing contact lenses, there are precautions you can take to minimize the risk of developing an eye infection. These include:

  • Wear goggles: Any well-fitting goggles can help prevent water from entering your eyes. If you frequently engage in swimming activities, you may consider using prescription goggles to eliminate the need for wearing contact lenses.

  • Remove your contacts immediately after swimming: Rinse your eyes with clean water and wear your glasses instead. Alternatively, you can insert a fresh, clean pair of contact lenses.
  • Disinfect your lenses: After swimming with your contacts, soak them in contact lens solution for 24 hours to ensure proper disinfection.

  • Consider daily contact lenses: Opting for daily disposable contact lenses allows you to discard them after swimming.

  • Use artificial tears or rewetting drops: Applying these before and after swimming can help reduce the risk of dry eyes.

  • Consult a healthcare professional: If you participate in competitive swimming, discuss the option of wearing a specialized type of rigid gas permeable contact lens that reshapes your cornea overnight, potentially eliminating the need for daytime contact lens use. Alternatively, you might consider undergoing LASIK surgery to address your vision correction needs.

What are the symptoms of an eye infection?

If you swim or shower while wearing contact lenses, it is important to be vigilant for symptoms of an eye infection, which may include:

  • Red eyes.
  • Eye pain.
  • Itchy eyes.
  • Excessive tearing or watery eyes.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Eye discharge.
  • Swelling.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Sensation of having a foreign object in the eye.

If you experience any of these symptoms after your contact lenses come into contact with water, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional promptly. Early diagnosis is crucial in the case of eye infections.

The bottom line

Swimming or showering while wearing contact lenses increases the risk of developing various eye problems, ranging from dry eyes to severe eye infections. To minimize these risks, it is generally recommended to refrain from wearing contact lenses while engaging in water activities.

If it is necessary for you to wear contact lenses while swimming or showering, take appropriate steps to protect your eyes.Consider wearing water-tight goggles, remove and disinfect your contacts immediately after water exposure, or switch to daily disposable lenses.

Seek medical attention if you experience redness, pain, itching, excessive tearing, blurry vision, discharge, swelling, light sensitivity, or a feeling of a foreign object in your eye after your contacts come into contact with water.

In conclusion, while it may be tempting to wear contact lenses while swimming, it poses significant risks to eye health. It is generally best to avoid wearing them in water. If you must wear them, follow the safety precautions outlined above to reduce the chances of eye problems. Always consult with a healthcare professional if you experience any symptoms of an eye infection.