Can You Swim with Contacts if You Wear Goggles?

Can you swim with contacts if you wear goggles? Yes, but there are important precautions to consider. This guide explores the effects of chlorine and pH on contact lenses, the risks of waterborne microorganisms, and essential tips for safely swimming in pools while wearing contacts.

Written by

Jameel Nawaz

Published on

General

Many contact lens wearers are concerned about whether swimming in pools while wearing their contact lenses is safe. The short answer is: yes, you can swim with contacts – if you wear water-tight goggles, but there are some important pool-specific precautions to keep in mind. Let’s dive deeper into this topic to understand the risks, benefits, and best practices for swimming in pools with contact lenses.

Why Wearing Goggles is Essential in Swimming Pools

Chlorine is the most common disinfectant used in swimming pools. The recommended free chlorine level in UK public pools is between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/l (or parts per million). For most swimmers without contact lenses, this level of chlorine doesn’t cause significant irritation. However, contact lens wearers are more susceptible to irritation even at these levels as the chlorine can cause the lenses to tighten around your corneas, leading to discomfort and potential eye damage according to the British Contact Lens Association.

pH Imbalance

    The ideal pH range for pool water is between 7.2 and 7.6, as recommended by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive. At this range, most swimmers find the water comfortable. However, maintaining this balance can be challenging, and fluctuations are common. For contact lens wearers, even slight deviations from this range can cause significant discomfort. If the pH drops below 7.2, the water becomes acidic, which can cause stinging and redness. Above 7.6, the water becomes alkaline, potentially leading to eye irritation and dryness.

    These changes can occur rapidly, sometimes within minutes of exposure to imbalanced pool water. These pH changes can also affect the shape and fit of your contact lenses. The College of Optometrists notes that this can lead to blurred vision as the lens may no longer correctly align with your eye’s curvature. This misalignment can cause distortions in your vision, leading to blurriness or changes in visual acuity.

    One of the more serious concerns is the risk of the lens adhering too tightly to your eye. This can happen when the lens shrinks in alkaline conditions. Removing a tightly adhered lens can potentially scratch the cornea or limit the amount of oxygen reaching your cornea, which is essential for eye health. To mitigate these risks always wear well-fitting, watertight goggles when swimming with contact lenses.

      Waterborne microorganisms

      While chlorine is effective at killing most harmful bacteria, it’s not 100% foolproof. Crypto parasites, for example, can survive in properly chlorinated pools for several days. For non-lens wearers, the risk of infection from these organisms is relatively low. However, contact lenses can act as a reservoir for these microorganisms.

        One particular concern in pools is Acanthamoeba, a microorganism that can cause serious eye infections in contact lens wearers. While rare, Acanthamoeba keratitis is more common in contact lens wearers who swim or use hot tubs. The British Contact Lens Association reports that 85% of Acanthamoeba keratitis cases occur in contact lens wearers. Thankfully, these types of infections are rare and mostly occur when the recommended hygiene procedures aren’t followed.

        Chemical absorption:

        Contact lenses, especially soft lenses, can absorb pool chemicals, including chlorine and its by-products. The typical contact lens can absorb up to 10 times its weight in liquid. For non-lens wearers, exposure to pool chemicals ends when they leave the pool. However, for contact lens wearers, the absorbed chemicals can continue to irritate the eye long after swimming has ended.

        Wearing well-fitting, watertight goggles creates a protective barrier between your contacts and the pool water, significantly reducing these risks. A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that wearing goggles while swimming with contacts reduced the risk of chemical exposure and microbial contamination by over 90% in pool environments.

        Tips for Swimming with Contacts and Goggles in Pools

        If you decide to swim with your contacts in a pool make sure you choose the right goggles. Ensure they fit snugly and don’t allow water to seep in. Look for goggles with a strong seal and adjustable straps. Specsavers recommends testing the fit by pressing the goggles to your face without the strap – they should stay in place for a few seconds.

          When selecting goggles, consider the following:

          • Material: Silicone seals are typically more comfortable and provide a better seal than rubber.
          • Anti-fog coating: This helps maintain clear vision throughout your swim.
          • UV protection: Important if you’re swimming in outdoor pools.

          Avoid touching your eyes or lenses when putting on goggles. The NHS advises washing your hands thoroughly before handling your contacts or goggles to reduce the risk of introducing bacteria, which is particularly important in a pool environment where many people are sharing the same water.

            Use a technique where you place the goggles over your eyes and then pull the strap over your head, rather than sliding the goggles up your face, which can dislodge your lenses.

            Remove lenses immediately after swimming. Even with goggles, some pool water may reach your lenses. Remove and clean your lenses as soon as possible after swimming in a pool.

              If you wear reusable lenses, clean and disinfect them thoroughly after swimming in a pool. The General Optical Council provides detailed guidelines for proper contact lens care and hygiene, which are especially important after exposure to pool chemicals.

                For reusable lenses:

                • Rub the lenses gently with your cleaning solution for at least 20 seconds on each side.
                • Rinse thoroughly with fresh solution.
                • Soak in fresh solution for at least 4 hours or overnight.

                Disposable lenses are ideal for swimming in pools as you can simply throw them away after use. Daily disposable lenses have the lowest risk of contamination in aquatic environments, including pools.

                Prescription Goggles

                While swimming with contacts and goggles in pools is possible, there are other options to explore. Prescription goggles eliminate the need for contacts altogether. Many UK-based companies offer customisable prescription goggles that can correct your vision while swimming in pools. The Association of Optometrists suggests this as a safe alternative for regular pool swimmers.

                Conclusion

                Swimming in pools with contacts while wearing goggles is generally safe if proper precautions are taken. However, it’s always best to consult with your eye care professional about your specific situation and the best practices for your eye health, especially if you’re a frequent pool swimmer.

                Remember, your eye health should always be your top priority. When in doubt, it’s safer to swim without contacts or to explore alternative options for clear vision in the pool. Regular eye check-ups and following proper hygiene practices can help ensure that you enjoy swimming while maintaining healthy eyes, even in chlorinated environments.

                By understanding the risks and taking appropriate precautions, you can safely enjoy swimming while wearing contact lenses. Whether you choose to wear goggles with your contacts or opt for an alternative solution, the key is to prioritise your eye health and comfort.