Contact lenses have been around for a very long time now, bringing people a limitless vision for centuries. Perhaps shockingly, they have been available for consumers to buy since 1888! Despite this, it’s still not entirely clear exactly how and when it is safe to wear them.
One of the most desirable situations to have flawless vision without having to wear glasses is swimming. So, anyone can understand why there is an ongoing demand for a contact lens solution that is suitable for underwater use. Despite the obvious benefits, has this actually been achieved?
Can you wear standard contact lenses for swimming?
Opticians and eye care specialists will always advise that contact lenses are not suitable for swimming. In fact, when wearing contact lenses any exposure to water should be avoided altogether. This advice extends to contact with all water sources, including tap water, showers, lakes, or the sea as it can have some unanticipated harmful results.
What are the risks of wearing contact lenses for swimming?
When wearing contact lenses, exposure to water can result in circumstances that are threatening to eye health. This is because contact lenses sit very close to the eye, and contaminated substances can easily become trapped in the pockets of air that sit directly between the eyeball and the contact lens. Soft contact lenses are notoriously porous, which increases the risk as they absorb bacteria and irritants like chlorine in pool water.
Firstly, water can harbor a variety of impurities that cause infection, even if they are trapped in the eye for only a short period of time. Acanthamoeba is one of the most dangerous organisms that can be present in water and is responsible for causing a condition known as Acanthamoeba Keratitis. Although rare, cases have resulted in partial or full vision loss and may require a corneal transplant.
Also, water can make the material in contact lenses contract or change shape. In the short term, the distortion caused by water will likely result in blurry vision and discomfort. Harder varieties of contact lenses can easily become dislodged in water as well. While all these scenarios render the contact lenses impractical for their intended purpose, they also put you at further risk, as exposure to water can more easily cause infection.
Since the lens material tightens when exposed to water, it will restrict the level of oxygen that can reach your eye, leading to long-term issues. Initially, this problem can make your eyes feel dry and uncomfortable, a condition known as “dry eye”. However over a long period of time, if oxygen deprivation is sustained, it can lead to much more serious conditions such as Hypoxia which can lead to vision loss.
Among these issues, rigid gas permeable (RGP) or gas permeable (GP) contact lenses are less flexible and can more easily become dislodged while swimming, which can be uncomfortable and dangerously distracting in deep water.
Can I wear contact lenses in a swimming pool?
Artificial sanitation chemicals like chlorine are not present in swimming pools in strong enough volumes to kill harmful microbes, so contact lens wearers are at risk of exposing their eyes to contaminated water. As you can imagine, wild water swimming poses even more of a risk, especially in stagnant water found in many lakes and reservoirs.
What are the best contact lenses for swimming?
As yet, there is no contact lens that is specifically designed to be safe for swimming. The best practice would be to take out your contacts before getting into the water and to avoid any exposure to water while you are wearing the contact lenses.
Some suggest using a daily disposable contact lens with waterproof airtight swimming goggles over the top. Unfortunately, this is not a totally risk-free option and would not usually be advised by your optician. A good-fitting pair of swimming goggles is essential for swimming regardless, as they help to protect your eyes from the irritants frequently found in water.
For overall hygiene, a daily disposable lens will always be the best option. So, in terms of safety, in the event that your contact lenses accidentally come into contact with water, wearing a daily disposable contact lens that you can easily order online would reduce the risk of harm to your eyes.
Using a daily disposable contact lens that can be safely removed and replaced with a brand new lens after each wear is the most hygienic option and can lower your risk of infection. It is important to always remove both contact lenses after use every day. So, even if you do come into contact with water whilst wearing contact lenses, any unwanted substances will be safely removed with your lenses for good. This will reduce the chance of irritation or infection.
What is the best way to see underwater without glasses?
The best and safest option for vision correction while swimming is to purchase prescription swimming goggles. These eliminate the need to wear contact lenses in water altogether and are available as ready-made models with the same prescription in both eyes for a quick solution. Better still, you can order bespoke goggles made-to-measure with your exact prescription for each eye.
As an additional important step, carry eye drops in your swimming kit. Taking this measure and ensuring you use them appropriately after every swim will reduce stinging and burning sensations, visible redness, and the after-effect of dry eye.
We hope that this article has helped you. Swimming is one of the best ways to refresh your body and soul.