Swimming and The Eyes
Swimming and The Eyes

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Each year an estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. suffer a sports related eye injury. Prevent Blindness, the nation’s leading volunteer health and safety organization dedicated to preserving sight, states that water and pool-related injuries are the cause of most sports-related injuries.(1)

Chlorine and other chemicals in pools are hard on the tear film that coats the surface of the eye. This film keeps the eye moist and clear. The chemicals meant to keep pool water clean can wash away the moist layer of this tear film.(2)

“Chlorine itself can cause a reaction, leaving the surface and edges of your eyes red, itchy, watery and uncomfortable.” Wearing goggles helps, as well as rinsing the eyes with fresh water immediately after swimming.(2) Swimming in chlorinated pools or salt water may also lead to dry eye syndrome.(3)

Contact lens wearers are advised to remove their lenses before swimming. The Centers for Disease Control warns that water, whether in the shower, pool, or lake, can cause soft contact lenses to change shape and stick to the eye. This can scratch the cornea, making it easier for germs to enter the eye.(4)

While there are different kinds of germs that can be harmful to the eye, a particularly dangerous germ is acanthamoeba. This amoeba is found in lake water, well water, and tap water.(4) The painful infection caused by this germ, acanthamoeba keratitis, affects the cornea. It causes scarring and, if untreated, can lead to blindness.(1) The CDC advises that contact lenses that touch water should be disposed of.(4) Bacteria can grow on lenses even after a quick swim, states the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Swimmers who need vision correction may consider prescription swim goggles.(2)

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Reference

(1) Prevent Blindness, Water and Pool-Related Injuries Remain the Cause of Most Sports-Related Eye Injuries, https://preventblindness.org/

(2) Boyd, K., McKenny, J. MD, Herz, N. MD, (reviewers), (2016), American Academy of Ophthalmology, What You Should Know about Swimming and Your Eyes, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/

(3) healthline, (2020), Can You Swim with Contacts, https://www.healthline.com/

(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2021) Water and Contact Lenses Don’t Mix, https://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/

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