We’ve all done it. It’s too much of a hassle to take them out beforehand, and who wants to look like a total noob wearing goggles the entire time you’re in the pool?
Well, we spoke with optometrist Timothy Gibbons, OD, at University of Utah Health, and he gave us some reasons why those noobs might be on to something:
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1. Swimming with contacts can result in eye infections, irritation, and potential sight-threatening conditions such as a corneal ulcer.
2. The FDA has recommended that contacts not be exposed to ANY type of water, including tap water, swimming pools, oceans, lakes, hot tubs and showers.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s fresh water or a chlorinated pool,” Gibbons said. “There are bugs and pathogens that chlorine doesn’t kill, which could potentially cause damage to the cornea, infection, or ulcers.”
3. Water is home to all sorts of viruses and microbes — one of the scariest being Acanthamoeba, which attaches to your contact, causing your cornea to become infected and inflamed and can result in permanent vision loss or require a corneal transplant.
4. Fresh water and water in swimming pools can cause soft lenses to tighten against your eye causing significant irritation.
5. Soft lenses are porous, allowing chemicals and bacteria to lodge inside the lens and press against your eye, increasing chances of infection and irritation.
Gibbons says for patients who must wear contacts while swimming, there are certain steps to take which dramatically lower the risk of infection.
“I tell all my patients to avoid wearing contacts while swimming if at all possible,” Gibbons said. “But if that’s not an option, always wear goggles, remove the contacts immediately after swimming and soak them in contact solution for 24 hours.”
Alternating between two pairs of contacts, or wearing glasses while your contact lenses soak, is the best way to ensure protection of your eyes. Allowing the lenses to be completely disinfected eliminates the risk of exposing your eyes to bacteria that could have easily been absorbed into the lenses.
On your next pool day, make sure you aren’t being careless with your eyes — you kind of need those.
Hillary Brown is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs.