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swimming with contact lenses

Can you swim with contact lenses?

Optometrists recommend that contact lens wearers follow the “three S rule”: don’t swim, shower or sleep in your lenses.

Why? Because all three can lead to irritation, and in some cases, serious infection. Water can carry all sorts of pathogens and parasites – the most dangerous being acanthamoeba, which attaches to your contact and works its way into the cornea. In very severe cases acanthamoeba infections can cause loss of vision.

Swimming with contact lenses

Swimming with contact lenses should be avoided whenever possible. In fact, it's recommended that contacts are not exposed to any type of water, including tap water, swimming pools, oceans, lakes, hot tubs and showers. Even in chlorinated water, dangerous bacteria and other organisms can thrive.

The chemicals in a swimming pool can increase irritation and infection in your eyes, especially if you wear soft contact lenses, which are porous and absorb chemicals and bacteria. When exposed to fresh water, soft lenses can also tighten and starve your eyes of oxygen, leaving them feeling dry and uncomfortable. While rigid gas permeable lenses are more breathable, they can easily dislodge from the eye, therefore should never be worn in a pool.

If your sight doesn’t need a great deal of correction, the best option is to remove your contacts before taking a dip. Just make sure you’ve packed a spare pair first! 

Prescription Goggles

Prescription goggles work to sharpen your vision and protect your peepers from infection, allowing you to enjoy a dip in the pool or a dive in the ocean. 

Because water has a significantly different refractive index to air, our eyes struggle to focus in water. So, even those who have perfect vision on land will experience blurry vision underwater. 

Swimming goggles come ready-made for basic prescriptions, or can be made specifically to your prescription. While prefabricated (ready-made) goggles may not match your prescription perfectly, they come in varying strengths, known as diopters or step diopters, and are usually a good option for most people. 

For those with a more complex prescription, perhaps opt for custom-made goggles. Modern prescription goggles have a huge variety of features including anti-fog solutions, UV protection, shatterproof lenses, and are widely available at Opticians across the country. Check in with your optometrist to discuss which solution is best for you. 

If you must swim with lenses

There are two issues here. Firstly, the contact lenses are likely to fall out, so you’ll end up with blurry vision anyway. More importantly, you’re putting yourself at risk of eye infection. 

But if you must swim with contact lenses, consider wearing daily disposable lenses and slip on a pair of watertight goggles for extra protection. Discard your dailies immediately after swimming, rinse your eye with rewetting drops and pop in a fresh pair of lenses. This helps to eliminate the risk of exposing your eyes to harmful bacteria that may have attached to your contacts when swimming.

Article originally posted in July 2020. It has since been updated.