If you've been wondering how safe it is to wear contact lenses while swimming, or playing water sports - our expert in-house optician's response, is very much, no. Swimming with your contact lenses, or getting them wet should be avoided at all times. When water, whether it's from a swimming pool, hot tub, the sea, or a tap mixes with your lenses, it makes your eyes more vulnerable to contamination by harmful bacteria. It's this bacteria, which is present in the water, that increases your risk of nasty eye irritations and eye infections.
To protect your eye health and overall vision, we've selected some simple steps to help you swim safely and important signs of infection to look out for.
What are the risks of swimming with contacts?
Using contact lenses for sports that don't involve exposure to water is an excellent option given that you can enjoy better freedom of movement and improved peripheral vision. However, water sports, with your lenses directly exposed, as we've said, are simply a no-go. Your lenses absorb water extremely quickly, and if left in for a long time, while getting wet, will trap all sorts of viruses, germs and bacteria against your eye.
Plus, freshwater or saltwater sources like the sea, lakes and rivers, can be more dangerous than in a pool because natural bodies of water are usually teeming with bacteria that's not killed off by pool chemicals. Acanthamoeba, one of the most dangerous organisms found in these sources, can result in a rare but serious eye infection, Acanthamoeba keratitis. If left untreated, this infection may lead to inflammation of the cornea, resulting in vision loss down the line.
Unfortunately, chemicals like chlorine, won't kill all pathogens, and as soft lenses are exceptionally porous and absorbent, the bacteria and the chlorine in pool water can still easily reach and harm your eyes during a dip. Additionally, wet contact lenses will change their shape dramatically, making them uncomfortable to wear, and distorting or blurring your sight.
Swimming with your contact lenses can increase your risk of several eye issues, including:
- Corneal ulcers
- Corneal abrasions or scratches
- Eye inflammation from the lens sticking to your eye
- Eye infections
- Eye conditions
- Dry eye syndrome and dry eyes, particularly from saltwater or chlorinated water
What are the symptoms of an eye infection?
Accidentally swam or showered with your lenses? Don't panic - just gently remove them right away and dispose of them before rinsing your eyes out with clean water. It's better to then give your eyes a break for the day and maybe switch to your specs. Following this, keep a lookout for continuous symptoms, which may indicate an eye infection like:
- Itchy eyes
- Red eyes
- Painful eyes
- Teary eyes
- Blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Feeling like there's something stuck in your eye
- Eye discharge
If you do experience any of these symptoms for a prolonger period, reach out to your GP and book an appointment, as it's important to treat an eye infection early before it worsens.
How to swim safely with contact lenses
Although it's not advisable to swim with your contact lenses exposed to water, an alternative option is to pair dailies with tight-fitting waterproof swimming googles. Daily disposable lenses are undoubtedly the answer to avoiding any eye issues while still wearing your lenses, as they're majorly hygienic - after your swimming session, you can simply take them out and throw them away, before popping in a fresh, new set. Plus, they're incredibly breathable and comfortable, ideal for lengthy laps.
If at any point throughout your paddle your lenses or eyes start to feel uncomfortable, be sure to remove and discard them immediately. Having a bottle of eye drops or rewetting drops in your swim kit and applying them in the changing room or on the beach, is always a good idea. Acting like artificial tears, eye drops can work to reduce any burning, stinging and redness in a flash. For more advice about swimming with contact lenses, it's worth chatting to your optician and having a recent eye test to find out the best option for you.
Try everclear ELITE
Exclusive to Vision Direct, everclear ELITE contact lenses are extremely comfortable and breathable, with an ultra-hydrating formula perfect for those with dry eyes, locking in moisture throughout your swimming sessions. These daily disposable contacts are made with a silicone hydrogel material, ensuring your eyes stay and look healthy for up to 12 hours, whether you're on dry land or not. Plus, UV blocking offers an extra layer of defence against harmful sun rays.
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Prescription goggles for swimming
Ideal for regular swimmers, prescription swimming goggles are a fantastic investment to correct your vision while you swim. They're custom-made and work the same way eyeglasses do - by correcting specific refractive errors like myopia (short-sightedness), hyperopia (long-sightedness), presbyopia and astigmatism, according to your prescription. As they seal off the water from coming into contact with your eyes, you'll be able to see clearly without the risk of contamination.
Some brands of prescription swimming goggles are even available as ready-made models, which come with the same prescription figures for both eyes. Before purchasing, we recommend that you check the goggles against the prescription you received from your optometrist to ensure that it matches exactly. Contact lens wearers who swim competitively can also look at a type of rigid gas permeable contact lenses to reshape their cornea and correct their vision, or even LASIK surgery.
Can I shower while wearing contact lenses?
Similarly to swimming, showering with your contact lenses can be equally as damaging to your eyes and the quality of your lenses. The microorganism, Acanthamoeba, is also present in tap water, along with other germs (even from the shower head), so taking out your lenses before jumping in is a much safer option. Two-weekly and monthly wearers should add a sturdy contact lens case to their eye care essentials, which they can leave in the bathroom, making storing lenses while washing a breeze.
Top contact lens care tips
- Keep your lenses away from water, and store them correctly while you're swimming, showering or bathing
- Throw away any lenses that have become wet, exposed to water or damaged in any way
- If you've opted for a longer wearing pattern, leave your lenses in a multipurpose solution (not water) overnight, so they're thoroughly cleaned and disinfected by the morning
- Replace your contact lens case every 3 months to prevent a build-up of harmful bacteria
- Always wash your hands with clean water and a lint-free towel before applying and removing your lenses - Vision Direct Soap Sheets are ideal for keeping up your hand hygiene on the go
- Remove your lenses before sleeping, unless your optician has advised you otherwise
- Follow product instructions, especially when it comes to the maintenance of longer wearing pattern lenses
- Stick to the exact wearing pattern and eye care routine that your optician has told you to follow
- Contact lens wearers planning a getaway can purchase a Vision Direct Travel Case to store their lenses and eye care essentials with ease
- Choose lenses with UV blocking and sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful rays
- Opt for protective goggles when swimming, skiing, or playing extreme sports
- If your lenses are causing you discomfort, sensitivity or discharge, remove them, give your eyes a break and reach out to your eye doctor
Need more help or advice?
For personalised advice on anything to do with contact lenses and eye health use our live chat, call our friendly customer support team on 020 7768 5000 in the UK or on 1 800 870 0741 in the US or email firstname.lastname@example.org. They're available 7 days a week 8:00 to 23:59.