It is recommended that you avoid swimming with contacts. A variety of microbes can be present in water that can attach to contact lenses and cause eye infections and other issues. (Learn More)

There are alternatives to contacts, so you can maintain clear vision when you are in the water. For example, certain types of goggles can be a viable option. (Learn More)

There are a variety of contacts on the market. While none are considered safe for swimming, certain ones may risk your eye health more than others. (Learn More)

No bodies of water are safe when you are wearing contacts. However, different types of water may have different threats. (Learn More)

swimming with eye open underwater

Why to Take Out Your Contacts Before Swimming

You should not allow any water to come into contact with your contact lenses. This includes tap water, as well as pool water and natural bodies of water. These can all contain microorganisms that can result in an infection once in your eye.

An infection affecting your cornea, referred to as keratitis, is the primary concern with wearing contacts when you are swimming. The organisms that can cause this infection can be present in all bodies of water.

Keratitis is not uncommon. It tends to be more common among people who wear contact lenses. The infectious type of keratitis can result from a virus, bacteria, parasite, or fungus getting into your eye, especially when it is wedged between your eye and your contact lens.

The symptoms may include the following:

  • Eye redness
  • Discharge or excessive tear production
  • Reduced vision
  • Feeling like there is something in your eye
  • Eye pain
  • Irritation or pain that makes it harder to open your eyelid
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity

All forms of infectious keratitis can be serious. However, an infection caused by the acanthamoeba parasite is among the most concerning. In the most severe instances, an infection with this parasite could lead to blindness.

Can Wearing Goggles Protect Your Contacts?

Even with goggles, you should avoid wearing your contact lenses when you are swimming. If any water gets past your goggles and into your eyes, you are at risk for an infection.

Instead, consider prescription goggles. These will function like eyeglasses, so you can have greater visual acuity in the pool without worrying about your glasses falling off.

To get prescription goggles, you will meet with your eye doctor like you do for any corrective lenses. They will prescribe them, and you can find a reputable retailer that offers prescription goggles.

Prescription goggles are a good choice for anyone who spends time in the water.

Are Any Contacts Safe When You Are Swimming?

Certain types of contact lenses are worse than others when it comes to swimming. While it’s best to avoid all contact lenses when swimming, if you do wear any in a pool, daily disposable lenses are the least harmful since you will throw them away the same day. However, there is still time for an infection to form when you are swimming.

Never wear gas permeable lenses in the water. They could dislodge from your eye or move around and scratch your cornea. If you wear soft lenses, you can experience a lot of discomfort if the water causes them to become tighter and more rigid on your eye.

If you end up in a body of water with your contacts in, you should get out and immediately remove them. Flush your eyes with sterile water and put your contacts into their solution. The contacts should remain in a disinfecting solution for at least 24 hours to reduce the risk of any microbes remaining attached to them.

swimming pool

Are Pools Safer Than Natural Bodies of Water?

While pool water contains chemicals that make it cleaner than natural bodies of water, it is still not safe for contacts because the water is not sterile. Chlorine does eliminate some microbes, but it cannot eliminate all pathogens. The ones that are left behind despite chlorination have the potential to cause corneal infection, ulcers, and damage.

You also have to consider how much chlorine is in the pool. If it is not in balance, it could cause irritation for your eyes. This irritation can be more significant if the chlorine gets stuck between your eye and your contact lens. For some people, even balanced levels of chlorine can result in eye irritation.

In natural bodies of water, such as the ocean and lakes, you not only have to worry about microbes, but also things like dirt and small debris. If small particles get into your eye, they can scratch your cornea.

If the abrasion is severe, it has the potential to impact your vision long term. Even with a minor abrasion, you can expect symptoms, such as redness, headaches, tearing, blurriness, and light sensitivity, for 24 to 48 hours.

When you go for a swim, remember to remove your contacts. You can wear goggles with prescription lenses to ensure clear vision in the water.

References

Focusing on Contact Lens Safety. (August 2017). Food and Drug Administration.

What Is Keratitis? Healthline.

Is It Safe to Swim in Contact Lenses? Doctors Warn About Eye Infection. (September 2018). Today.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About Wearing Contacts in the Pool. (July 2015). University of Utah.

Corneal Abrasion. (January 2019). Harvard Medical School.