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Whilst wearing contact lenses is generally a safe practice, provided good hygiene is always maintained, swimming with contacts can be a particularly risky and dangerous combination. To get right down to it, exposing your lenses to water whether it be from a swimming pool, lake or even the ocean is a concern as you are highly vulnerable to common eye irritations and infections.
But that’s not the worst of it. The most distressing reality is the potential for permanent, irreversible loss of sight due to a waterborne microorganism, such as the Acanthamoeba keratitis, which burrows its way into your eye. With theoretically over a million bacteria that could be found in just one water droplet, the chances of this happening increase if you swim with contacts regularly. In addition to the risk of bacteria and parasites making their way into your eye, contact with water can also cause lenses to shrink and tighten whilst still in the eye causing significant discomfort or even pain.
Contact lenses should never come into contact with any water source, including tap water, pool water and sea water and should only ever be cleaned with proper disinfecting solution designed for this purpose.
If water does get into your eyes for some reason, you forgot to take your contacts out before swimming, or you just can’t forego your contacts for swimming despite the risks, you should immediately clean and disinfect your lenses post water contact. If you were wearing daily throw away disposables, you should discard these, lubricate your eyes with eye drops and use a fresh pair for the remainder of the day.
If you are an avid swimmer and feel as though you absolutely must swim with contacts in, it is important to invest in quality, waterproof swimming goggles. Watertight goggles will reduce your chances of contracting an eye irritation or infection, whilst also ensuring that your lenses do not dislodge or fall out completely. For particularly active people, it may be worth considering other options for correcting vision that does not involve wearing contacts and swimming, such as laser vision correction or orthokeratology (wearing of lenses whilst sleeping each night to reshape the cornea and correct vision).
Your optometrist will always be able to discuss hygiene practices and concerns relating to swimming activities with contact lenses and help you to decide what would work best for you. Always remember at any time if you are experiencing prolonged irritations, redness, swelling and pain to consult with your optometrist immediately. If there is any chance that you have contracted an infection or been exposed to potentially harmful bacteria then it’s best to act quickly, as any delays could potentially result in loss of vision.