Can I swim with contact lenses?
In summer, we generally want to relax and enjoy the sunshine while we can. However, we cannot forget about our eyes and their health, so always remember to remove contact lenses before going swimming or even showering.
This is because contact lenses can absorb various pathogens and chemical substances that are found in water. As a result, contaminated contact lenses can cause eye irritation and serious infections, sometimes leading to permanent blindness.
Allowing your contact lenses to come into contact with tap or swimming pool water can lead to very serious infections. The problem is associated with the fact that water in swimming pools, lakes and seas is not sterile, and therefore contains a great many kinds of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa), which can contaminate contact lenses. The same, unfortunately, can be said of tap water, even if it is clean enough for us to drink.
Probably the most dangerous microorganisms that affect contact lenses are protozoa, especially the Acanthamoeba. This protozoan is able to attach itself to the surface of a contact lens, multiply and damage the cornea. Acanthamoeba keratitis caused by this microbe is extremely difficult to treat and often leads to permanent blindness (or the necessity for a corneal transplant), particularly if it is not diagnosed immediately after the onset of the infection.
Unfortunately quite often the condition is misdiagnosed at first as a regular bacterial or viral infection and proper treatment is delayed with dramatic consequences.
In order to protect your eyes against Acanthamoeba, you should never use contact lenses while swimming or showering. Washing your face and removing makeup should be performed after you've removed your contacts too. If your contact lenses are exposed to water, you should take them out and discard them straight away. If you need contact lenses to perform sports such as diving, always use protective goggles to keep your eyes dry. It is also recommended to use daily disposable contacts for such activities as they can be binned after being accidentally exposed to water, minimising the risk of complications.
In case of eye irritation, blurred vision and eye pain, visit the nearest ophthalmologist and provide him or her with all the details of your contact lens wear. Your eyesight may depend on it.
Guidelines for avoiding Acanthamoeba keratitis
- wash your hands before touching contact lenses
- thoroughly clean and disinfect contact lenses with proper lens care products
- follow eye care practitioners instructions regarding lens wear, care and storage
- avoid swimming and showering without removing contact lenses
- when using daily contacts during swimming is absolutely necessary, wear goggles or a mask and dispose of your contacts after use even if they feel fine
- avoid borrowing or lending contact lenses from or to other patients
- replace contact lenses and lens cases in accordance with appropriate replacement schedules.