Can You Swim or Shower While Wearing Contact Lenses?

One of the primary points for wearing contact lenses is avoiding the hassles of wearing a pair of glasses. Nevertheless, whether for convenience or vanity, people opt for contacts for any number of personal reasons. However, the comfort and advantage of contacts are to wear them when glasses are inappropriate.

Key takeaways:
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    Wearing contact lenses is convenient, and they provide flexibility for an active individual; however, there are some risks to be aware of.
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    Avoiding getting contacts wet is vital for preventing eye irritation and infection.
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    When contact lenses come into contact with water, it can alter their shape and reduce their effectiveness. They should always be cleaned and stored in specially-designed saline solution.
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    Tap water and many other sources of water can contain dangerous organisms, which contact lenses trap and keep against the eyes.

Unfortunately, there are instances when not taking them out can be detrimental to overall eye health — swimming and showering are two no-nos.

Avoid swimming or showering with contact lenses

It can be very exciting to be able to stop wearing glasses and upgrade to wearing contact lenses. One reason is that contact lenses improve your field of vision because they move with your eyes.

The liberty and freedom of wearing contact lenses instead of glasses, however, does come with a few risks, mostly as a result of not practicing correct contact lens hygiene. Don’t worry, though, despite these risks, contact lenses can provide safe vision correction.

One of the biggest challenges with contact lenses is the prevention of eye infections and contact with water. Water and contact lenses do not mix. Always have a backup pair of eyeglasses.

Water and contact lenses don't mix, so wearers should be very careful about getting them wet. Storing contact lenses in specially-designed solutions keeps them clean and disinfected. For example, tap or treated pool water can diminish their quality and cause eye inflammation or even severe eye-threatening complications.

Therefore, it stands to reason that swimming or showering with contact lenses should be strictly avoided. This helps to prevent pathogens from entering the eye or the contact lenses adhering to the eye. Furthermore, water can affect their characteristics, such as altering their shape or infecting or damaging the cornea.

In fact, if contact lenses come into contact with water, they should be cleaned with contact lens solution or discarded. Always follow your eye healthcare provider’s instructions.

Those individuals who spend a lot of time in the water, such as competitive swimmers or divers, should consider either custom-made prescription eye protection goggles or LASIK corrective eye surgery instead of using contact lenses.

Risks include eye damage and infection

Wearing contact lenses in a swimming pool, lake, or ocean poses risks.

First, it's very easy to lose contact lenses in water — it's a common occurrence. Anyone who has done so knows that finding contact lenses in the water is nearly impossible. However, even if found, the lenses should never be worn again. This is because the lens may have undergone shape or material integrity changes.

If contact lenses are worn while swimming, sand or debris can get trapped under the contact lens. This can pose a risk of infection and possible corneal abrasion.

Most people who swim with contact lenses complain of dryness. The eyes become irritated and red, and that is not from the chlorine or salt, which can get trapped under the contact lens as well. Because the lenses rest against the eyes, they can trap foreign bodies, such as chemicals, fungi, or bacteria.

Unfortunately, even wearing contact lenses under goggles while snorkeling or swimming can still pose a risk, particularly if there is not a good seal.

As far as eye health is concerned, bathing or showering can be just risky as swimming with contact lenses. That's because tap water is chemically treated and contains microorganisms that can be just as dangerous for eye health as pool, lake, or ocean water.

Look out for these symptoms if you swam or showered with your contact lenses in:

  • Eye redness;
  • Itchy eyes;
  • Soreness or pain;
  • Dry or watery eyes;
  • A foreign body sensation in the eye;
  • Abnormal discharge from the eye;
  • Blurry vision;
  • Sensitivity to light.

Any of these signs can be a reason for concern and warrant an evaluation by an eye healthcare professional.

Eye infections associated with water

As it turns out, tap water and many other sources of water can contain a dangerous organism known as Acanthamoeba, a common environmental protozoon (single-cell organism). It can cause various diseases in humans, including encephalitis (brain infection), skin, sinus, and lung infections, and amebic keratitis, a serious eye infection involving the cornea.

Acanthamoeba keratitis can occur with contact wearers and among those with other corneal trauma. Unfortunately, it is possible to contract Acanthamoeba keratitis even if appropriate contact lens hygiene is used. It tends to occur in warmer, humid climates.

Most people have been exposed to Acanthamoeba at some point in their lives, and much of the population has serum antibodies directed against the organism. It is unknown if those antibodies, however, provide protective immunity.

Outbreaks of Acanthamoeba keratitis have occurred because of poor contact lens manufacturing practices and the distribution of contaminated or tainted contact lens solutions. In addition, the organism resists chlorination in swimming pools. Natural freshwater, such as lakes, tends to be less pathogenic or cause fewer infections.

Because of the prevalence of the organism in tap water, contact lens wearers are cautioned about making homemade sodium chloride solutions as a substitute for manufacturer-tested and produced contact lens solutions.

Most patients who present with Acanthamoeba keratitis have been wearing their contact lenses too long or contaminated them with unsterile water. The infection can occur within a few days or take as long as several weeks to become evident.

The symptoms of Acanthamoeba keratitis usually begin with a feeling of a foreign body sensation in one of the eyes. Then, the person complains of numerous symptoms, including increasing discomfort and pain, excessive tearing, light sensitivity, involuntary tight eye closure, and blurred vision.

Acanthamoeba keratitis treatment

The best way to treat Acanthamoeba keratitis effectively is early detection and diagnosis. Managing the infection should be aggressive with topical antimicrobial agents, which may require high concentrations in the affected areas of the eye.

Sometimes cysts form in the eye, which makes treatment challenging, so combination therapy is often used. Combinations include chlorhexidine (0.02%) and polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB, 0.02%) for treating both trophozoites and cysts.

These topical antimicrobials are administered hourly for the first several days. Then treatment is continued hourly during waking hours for a minimum of three days (at least nine times/day is recommended) depending on how the eyes respond.

After some resolution of symptoms, the frequency is then reduced to every three hours for a minimum of 3-4 weeks. Two weeks may be required before a noticeable response is observed.

Some medical eye professionals advocate treatment for 6-12 months. However, even when therapy is discontinued, the person needs to closely observe any changes in the look or feel of their eyes to discover a possible recurrent disease as early as possible.

Though wearing contact lenses can add convenience to your daily routine, proper care and precautions are needed. To avoid exposing yourself to serious eye infections or permanent vision damage, remove your lenses before swimming, showering, or going to bed. If you're concerned that you may have an eye infection because your eyes are irritated, remove your contact lenses immediately and schedule an appointment with your eye care professional.


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