Swimming with contact lenses should be avoided whenever possible to help prevent bacterial contamination of your eye. Swimming with contacts can result in eye infections, irritation and potentially sight-threatening conditions such as a corneal ulcer.
The FDA recommends that contact lenses should not be exposed to any kind of water, including tap water and water in swimming pools, oceans, lakes, hot tubs and showers.
Water can be home to countless viruses and dangerous microbes. One of the most serious is the Acanthamoeba organism, which can attach to contact lenses and cause the cornea to become infected and inflamed. This condition, called Acanthamoeba keratitis, is associated with wearing contact lenses while swimming and can cause permanent vision loss or require a corneal transplant to recover lost vision if not treated early enough.
Swimming with contacts can irritate and even damage your eyes. Wearing swim goggles is a safer way for you to see clearly both above the surface and underwater.
If water gets in your eyes when swimming, you should remove, clean and disinfect your contact lenses as soon as possible to reduce your risk of eye irritation and infection.
Proper contact lens care reduces further the chance of contamination. Remember to replace your contact lens case at least every three months and always follow your eye doctor’s recommendations.
Rigid gas permeable (GP) contact lenses should never be worn while swimming, as they are more likely to dislodge from your eye. While soft contact lenses are more likely to remain on your eye when swimming, they are porous and can absorb chemicals and bacteria, increasing the risk of eye irritation and infection.
Also, fresh water and water in swimming pools can cause soft lenses to tighten on your eyes, causing significant discomfort.
Getting water in your eyes when swimming also rinses away the natural tears that lubricate your eyes and can worsen existing eye conditions such as chronic dry eyes.
If you do decide to swim with contact lenses, daily disposable lenses are the safest option. They are meant to be worn and thrown away after a single use, eliminating the need to clean and disinfect them.
To be safe, it’s a good idea to discard daily disposable lenses immediately after swimming, rinse your eyes with rewetting drops or artificial tears approved for use with contact lenses, and then replace the lenses with a fresh pair of daily disposables.
If you use daily disposables for occasional wear, they offer good value for money when comparing the cost of contact lenses.
Always contact your eye doctor immediately if you experience prolonged eye irritation or sensitivity to light after wearing your contact lenses in water.