Is it safe to swim in contact lenses?

James Sutton

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, of course we are going to say that the best thing to use in a swimming pool is a pair of prescription swimming goggles. But is this really necessary? Aren’t contact lenses just as good? 

In recent months there have been several reports about serious eye infections attributed to wearing contact lenses while swimming (e.g. Daily Mail). 

In this case, a common water borne amoeba, Acanthamoeba, infected the eye. The Acanthamoeba organism, which can attach to contact lenses, causes a rare but serious condition called Acanthamoeba keratitis. This is characterised by: 

  • redness
  • pain in the eye
  • watering
  • light sensitivity
  • blurred vision
  • a feeling of something in the eyes

Treatment is usually with eye drops that have to instilled initially as often as every ½ hour, 24 hours a day. 

The problem is that even with treatment, it can cause ulceration of the cornea (the clear tissue at the front of the eye) which leads to permanent loss of vision. This would then need an operation called a corneal graft to try and replace the damaged tissues. 

Contact lens wearers are believed to be more at risk of this infection, accounting for around 90% of cases. This is because the eyes may be slightly damaged already, making it easier for the infection to take hold. Or because the organism attaches to the contact lens meaning it is in contact with the eye for longer. 

Advice from the British Contact Lens Association states: 

“The BCLA advice for contact lens wearers is to not wear contact lenses for swimming or in hot tubs or whilst showering or participating in water sports unless wearing tight-fitting goggles over the top. After swimming, or if lenses are removed and stored whilst swimming, contact lenses should be cleaned and disinfected in fresh solution before putting them back on the eyes. The BCLA recommendation is that regular swimmers talk to their eyecare practitioner about being fitted with daily disposable lenses for use with goggles whilst swimming. Wearers of daily disposable contact lenses should always discard them immediately after swimming.” 

So to try and avoid such potentially devastating eye infections, wearing goggles seems to be the answer. However, instead of a plain pair over lenses with the inherent risks this could still carry, we suggest a pair of prescription goggles. 

Safe swimming.

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Expert advice

“As an optometrist and regular swimmer, I enjoy sourcing a wide range of goggles and masks to help you see well in the pool, sea or spa.”

James Sutton (MCOptom)
Founder of Prescription Swimming Goggles

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