Water sports and lenses: what are the risks?

Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.

The problem

Although contact lenses offer a comfortable and convenient way to enjoy clear vision without the need for glasses, using them for water-based activities is considered a big no-no. The problem is, your eyes are vulnerable, and while wearing contact lenses can free your face and provide you with the opportunity to do just about anything, using these visual aids during water sports could put your vision and eye health in harm’s way. Whether you’re going swimming, surfboarding or snorkelling, using lenses in these situations is an unnecessary risk.

The dangers

From the ocean, to lakes, to swimming pools, most bodies of water contain a microorganism called acanthamoeba. In fact, it can also be present in the water that comes out of your taps and shower at home. Generally, acanthamoeba organisms do not cause harm to humans. However, they can cause serious damage if they come into contact with your eyes, especially if you’re a contact lens wearer.

These harmful microbes can become attached to your lenses, and once they’re underneath the lens, it’s difficult to get rid of them. The warm, moist setting of the underside of your lens offers a place for the microbes to breed and multiply, which can result in your eyes becoming irritated, infected and sore. In some cases, it can even lead to permanent loss of vision.

Wearing lenses for water sports can also result in a number of other problems. For example, a splash of water could cause your lens to fold over, leading to irritation or scratching your cornea. You could also risk your contacts falling out altogether.

The solution

Unfortunately, wearing goggles over your contact lenses is not a way to avoid the problem. Small amounts of water can still get inside and due to the fact that millions of acanthamoeba can live in one droplet, using goggles is not a fail-safe way to prevent you from damaging your eyes.

Ideally, in order for you to enjoy your water sport activities in the knowledge that your eyes are safe, you should not wear contact lenses at all. Even when there are lenses that cater to an active lifestyle, like the Acuvue Oasys, Ditching your lenses before you get into the pool or wade into the ocean is a much more sensible and safer option and you’ll significantly reduce your chances of harming your eyesight.

However, if you simply cannot carry out your water-based sports without some kind of visual aid, there is help at hand. Instead, you could invest in a pair of prescription goggles or sunglasses. While they may not be as convenient and comfortable as a pair of lenses, you’ll still be able to see clearly without putting your vision in danger.

Taking the time to recognise the risks involved should enable you to enjoy the water and keep your eye health in check.

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