5 Reasons Not to Swim in Contacts

There are two kinds of people who need corrective lenses, those who wear glasses and those who wear contacts so often that their friends and coworkers don’t even realize they need lenses. Of this second category, contacts seem like the perfect solution for almost everything. You never have to worry about carrying around or taking care of your glasses, you don’t have to get prescription shades, and you probably like you look better without the spectacles. This is all well and good until a circumstance comes along where you definitely shouldn’t be wearing contacts like when you go swimming.

Yes, contacts do seem like the perfect solution to the glasses while swimming problem. After all, you can see on the beach and underwater without running back and forth for glasses or having to go without visual correction. However, convenient as they may seem, contacts are actually a very bad idea to take swimming and it isn’t recommended by the FDA that you do so. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for someone who lives the contacts lifestyle to forget that there are events in which they’re a bad idea so here’s a quick list of 5 good reasons to consider taking your glasses and maybe a pair of prescription goggles to the beach instead.

Why Not to Swim in Contacts

1) They Sting Like Crazy

The primary aspect of contacts that many people either find easy or difficult is lubrication through tears, eyedrops, and contact solution. Tears and the liquids that mimic them have a particular pH that the contacts are formulated to respond to by staying moisturized and in place. When you open your eyes or simply expose them to chlorinated water like in a pool, spa, hot tub, or water park, that pH temporarily changes resulting in a chemical reaction on the surface of your eye. This is what causes stinging and redness even without contacts. However, the contact often traps chlorine behind it on your eye causing them to sting like crazy and often inspiring you to pull them out and apply eyedrops to make the burning stop.

2) Sometimes They Swell

What’s worse than the stinging? Depending on the exact brand and type of contact you have, some respond to the tear-and-chlorine chemical reaction a little differently and begin to swell right there in your eye. This means that the space between your eyeball and eyelid is pressed by the swelling contact causing an unusual amount of discomfort and sometimes even pain. Once again, if the stinging didn’t have you pulling out your contacts, the swelling definitely will.

3) They’ll Pop Right Out

What makes the contact stick to your eye? Moisture, right? The contact needs to be moist with tear-like solution and your eyes tear up a little bit to create a bond of liquid and mild suction. Just like playing with the surface tension of water, if you add more water the tension is broken and the same rule applies to your contacts as well. Let’s say you’re swimming in clean, clear non-chlorinated water like a glacier lake so there’s no excessive stinging or swelling but something can still go wrong. When you open your eyes and the water washes over your contacts, there’s a reasonable chance that all that liquid will overwhelm the fairly gentle bond between the contact and your eye and the contact will simply pop out, never to be seen again. This can be particularly inconvenient if they were your only pair of prescription lenses at the beach.

4) You Could Get an Infection

All of the side-effects listed so far are temporary and mostly briefly uncomfortable and inconvenient. However, there is one problem with wearing your contacts in the water that actually qualifies as dangerous. There are dozens of different types of waterborne bacteria, viruses, fungi, and microorganisms that can and will get into your eyes when you swim. While normally they would just float right on by, if they get caught between your contact and eyeball, the exposer can be long and enforced enough to cause an infection. Normally you simply have to stop wearing contacts and take antibiotics for a while but there are two rarer types of infection that are very difficult to treat and might result in cornal scarring. The FDA advises that you just don’t.

5) Not Even with Goggles

Many people wonder if they might simply keep wearing their contact lenses like always and wear normal swim goggles over them. Unfortunately, while this does reduce your exposure, goggles are easy to unseal underwater with sharp movements or an unexpected collision with another swimmer meaning that you’re still at risk of the burning, swelling, disappearing act, and potential infection. The real answer is simply not to wear your contacts when it’s time to swim.

The Right Backup Plan

The good news is that you’re not completely left in the lurch. Rather than accepting that swimming time is the time of blurry vision and losing track of your friends, consider doing things the glasses-wearing way for once. Because contacts simply aren’t an option, try a pair of prescription swim goggles instead. With these equipped, you’ll still be able to do everything you love at the pool or on the beach including see your friends, family, and the ocean floor but you won’t be at risk for a dangerous infection and your contacts will be nice and clean to put in for the drive home.

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