We've all done it. It's too much of a hassle to take them out beforehand, and who wants to wear goggles the entire time they're in the pool? However, there are some good reasons why you take out your contact lenses, according to Timothy Gibbons, OD, an optometrist at the John A Moran Eye Center.
- Swimming with contacts can result in eye infections, irritation, and potentially sight-threatening conditions such as a corneal ulcer.
- The FDA recommends 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 freshwater or a chlorinated pool," Gibbons says. "There are bugs and pathogens that chlorine doesn't kill, which could potentially cause damage to the cornea, infection, or ulcers."
- 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.
- Fresh bodies of water and water in swimming pools can cause soft lenses to tighten against your eye causing significant irritation.
- Soft lenses are porous, allowing chemicals and bacteria to lodge inside the lens and press against your eye, increasing the chances of infection and irritation.
Take these steps to lower your risk of infection
Gibbons offers this advice to his patients who must wear contacts while swimming:
- Avoid wearing contacts while swimming if at all possible.
- If not wearing contacts is 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.