Here's Why You Should Never Wear Your Contacts in the Pool

8 sources cited
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Can You Swim With Contacts?

Contact lenses are commonly worn daily to improve vision for people with myopia, astigmatism, and other refractive errors. 

While contact lenses may be part of the daily routine, many people don't realize it’s not recommended to mix contacts with water. 

Because soft lenses mix with the specific consistency of eye fluid, applying water can cause contact lenses to swell, change shape, and stick to the eye. To avoid complications, you should not go into swimming pools, showers, or hot tubs while wearing contact lenses. 

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4 Reasons You Should Never Wear Contacts in Water

1. Eye Infection and Corneal Ulcer

Both natural bodies of water and chlorinated pools have bacteria and germs that can become trapped inside contact lenses, leading to dangerous eye infections. 

Many water sources contain the microbe Acanthamoeba, including tap and well water. This microbe can lead to a painful and difficult-to-treat eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis (cornea). 

Signs and symptoms of keratitis include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • Redness of the eye
  • Eye discharge
  • Excessive tearing
  • Feeling like something is in your eye
  • Light sensitivity

A corneal ulcer, also called keratitis, can develop from swimming while wearing contacts. It is triggered by an eye infection or dry eyes. 

Common causes of corneal ulcers include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Parasitic infections
  • Eye injury 
  • Dry eye syndrome
  • Bell's palsy (prevents proper eyelid function)

Corneal ulcers mimic the signs and symptoms of an eye infection with the addition of a white spot on the cornea. 

2. Uveitis (Eye Inflammation)

A bacterial or viral eye infection from swimming with contacts can lead to eye inflammation, called uveitis

Uveitis is the inflammation of the middle layer of the eyeball. It can cause tissue damage and permanent vision loss if left untreated. Seeing floaters in your field of vision is a common symptom of uveitis.  

3. Scratched Cornea

Contact lenses exposed to water, including fresh and chlorinated water, can scratch the cornea's surface, resulting in corneal abrasion

Symptoms of a corneal abrasion include:

  • Eye pain
  • Blurry or hazy vision
  • Feeling like something is in your eye
  • Light sensitivity

Corneal abrasions typically heal in a couple of days with medicated eye drops while wearing a patch over the affected eye. 

4. Dry Eye Syndrome

Swimming in a chlorinated pool or salt water while wearing contact lenses is a common cause of dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is the breakdown of the natural layer of tears on the front of the eye. It can cause mild to severe symptoms that include:

  • Burning 
  • Stinging
  • Tearing
  • Eye discharge
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye pain and headaches
  • Scratchy eyes
  • Light sensitivity

How to Keep Your Eyes Safe While Swimming With Contacts

While eye doctors do not recommend that people swim with contact lenses, many choose to wear them for improved vision. 

Tips on decreasing your risk of eye infections and other complications while wearing contact lenses with swimming include:

  • Wear tight-fitting goggles to prevent water from leaking in
  • Remove your contacts immediately after getting out of the water
  • Use prescription swimming goggles to avoid the need to wear contacts in the water
  • Disinfect your lenses with contact solution after getting out of the water
  • Wear daily contact lenses that can be discarded after swimming
  • Apply artificial tears or rewetting drops to your contacts before and after swimming
  • Consider getting LASIK surgery (laser eye surgery) to eliminate the need for contacts 

Talk with your eye doctor if you have symptoms of an eye infection or plan to wear contact lenses while in the water. 

Summary

Swimming while wearing contact lenses is not recommended due to a high risk of an eye infection, scratched cornea, and dry eye syndrome. 

If you do choose to swim while wearing contacts, it is recommended to wear goggles or get prescription goggles, apply contact solution before and after swimming, and remove contact lenses immediately after being in the water.

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8 Cited Research Articles
  1. University of Utah. “Five things you didn’t know about wearing contacts in the pool,” 2015. 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Water and contact lenses don’t mix,” 2021. 
  3. Boyd, K. “Eye infections from contact lenses.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2021. 
  4. Turbert, D. “What is a corneal ulcer (keratitis)? American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022. 
  5. Boyd, K. “What is uveitis?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2022. 
  6. Boyd, K. “Corneal abrasion and erosion.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2021.
  7. Patal, A., et al. “Dry eye syndrome.” American Academy of Ophthalmology EyeWiki, 2022.
  8. Lazarus, R. “Swimming in contact lenses.” Optometrists Network, 2021.
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