What You Should Know About Swimming and Your Eyes

swimming and eyes

Swimming, whether it be a leisure activity or a daily workout, can be hard on your eyes and vision. The American Academy of Ophthalmology explains that the tear film (a thin layer of tears) coats the surface of our eyes and keeps them moist, smooth and clear. Chemicals used to keep pools clean, such as chlorine, can wash away the moist layer. This is why you might leave a pool with your eyes feeling uncomfortable and often red. Bacteria in the pool that aren’t killed by the chlorine can leave you with an eye infection.

How you can protect your eyes:

Since chlorine doesn’t protect you against all bacteria, protective goggles are important for maintaining healthy eyes and vision. There are two types of swimming goggles: small socket and large socket. Both options will keep the water out, but are built different.

  • Small socket goggles, typically worn by professional swimmers, are smaller and lightweight. They sit under your eyebrow and inside the eye socket.
  • Large socket goggles offer less pressure on the eyes, as they have a rubber rim that fits outside of your eye socket.

When wearing any pair of swimming goggles, make sure they are secure and adhere to your head.

When you experience dry eye:

If you swim often, you might experience dry eye. If this is the case, you may need to use over-the-counter eye drops before and after swimming. Artificial tears, also know as gel tears, can also help protect your tear film. Keep in mind this is not to be substituted for swimming goggles.

For contact wearers:  

If you wear contacts, remove them before you get in the water. Bacteria from pools, hot tubs and other natural bodies of water can leave bacteria on your lenses. Because contacts are generally worn for an extended period of time, your eyes will be continually exposed to the bacteria. This can lead to an infection, or in worse cases, corneal damage or vision loss.

While wearing goggles with contacts is better than without, there’s still a risk. You may opt for a pair of prescription goggles, which will enable you to see clearly underwater without the risk. Keep in mind that while some can be custom-made, the ready-made goggles don’t correct astigmatism and only come in common prescriptions.

For more information on how you can obtain prescription goggles, contact your optometrist.

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