Did you know that the FDA recommends that contacts lenses not be worn in ANY type of water? With summer upon us and swimming season temperatures in Arkansas, many of my patients ask a question me if they can swim in their contact lenses. It is a very good question! I am happy to explain my safe swimming with contact lenses guidelines below:
The reason is it not advisable to swim in contacts is one of safety. Infections and corneal irritation are highly likely when contacts are exposed to water. Many bacteria live in lakes and fresh water. A highly dangerous amoeba called “Acanthomoeba” is often found in lakes and hot tubs. Since contact lenses are porous, they can hold these dangerous bacteria close to your eye for an extended time after the lens is exposed to water. Even in chemically treated water, contact lenses can tighten against your eye causing significant surface irritation. Ulcers and infectious keratitis chances are significantly increased when you expose your lenses to water.
There are some simple steps you can take to avoid the dangers of swimming in contacts this summer.
Always wear goggles if you must wear contacts in the water. This creates an added barrier between your lens and the water, decreasing risks of eye injury or infection.
My favorite option is daily contact lens wear. If you don’t know about dailies and plan on swimming this summer, please ask your local eye care professional if they might work for you. With daily lenses you can simply throw your lenses away after swimming in them. This significantly reduces risk of corneal infection. As a bonus, they are great for allergy and dry eye sufferers!
Swim WITHOUT contacts if your prescription is minor enough to allow. This is a simple solution that is often not even considered. If your prescription is minor enough, it might be okay to go without your lenses while in the water. Ask your eye doctor if this is an option for you.
Swim with glasses. There are many frames designed for sports that have an active fit and can have something attached to keep them secure to your head. Be aware: this must be fit TIGHT so any extra attachments do not become a hazard while in the water. This is especially true when someone is diving or jumping in.
Consider LASIK. If you are age appropriate (roughly 21) feel free to speak to your doctor about this option. I manage many LASIK referrals and am always happy to discuss and walk my patients through this option.
If you MUST wear your re-usable lenses in the water, exercise caution after you are done. Soak your lenses in a peroxide solution overnight and report any discomfort, no matter how small, to your eye doctor following exposure to water. I do not recommend this option if there are any other solutions available (and there usually are better solutions available!).
I hope this answers some common questions about contact lens wear in water. I want you to enjoy swimming this 4th of July and enjoy going to Beaver Lake this summer, but I want you to do it safely. If you have any questions or concerns, please set up an appointment with your local optometrist to help find a solution that works for you.