Can You Swim With Contacts?

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Can you swim in contacts?

When you’re in the water, you’re exposed to all sorts of germs. This is true no matter what type of water you’re in, including oceans, lakes, hot tubs, and pools. But wait—aren’t pools chlorinated? Yes, but they remain a common source of infection, including in the eyes.

In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that more than 10 percent of public pools and other water recreation sites did not have adequate chlorine or bromine levels (a sanitizer used in warmer water) to keep harmful bacteria at bay.

The body’s immune system does a good job of fighting infection and keeping us from getting sick after germ exposure. But contact lenses pose particular challenges.

Here’s what you need to know about swimming in contacts.

Why don’t contacts and water mix well?

Contact lenses absorb water. This makes them swell, tighten, and stick to your eyes, which irritate them. It also may scratch your cornea, the clear protective dome that rests on the colored portion of your eye.

But the greater risk comes from all the bacteria in the water. When that water gets under your contacts, it’s then held against the eye, exposing your cornea to harm. The possible consequences range from mild to devastating, according to the CDC.

“People should never wear contacts when their eyes are exposed to water, as it greatly increases the risk of an eye infection, which can potentially be blinding,” says Matthew Gorski, MD, an ophthalmologist at Manhattan Ear, Eye, and Throat Hospital in New York.

“Luckily, these severe infections are rare, but mild infections are unfortunately fairly common.”

Maybe you’re thinking, “My eyes will be safe with contacts if I wear goggles in the water.” Dr. Gorski says no: “While goggles do a pretty good job of blocking water from your eyes, they are not 100 percent certain to prevent water from getting into your eyes,” he explains.

“You should never swim with contacts, even if wearing goggles.”

Dr. Gorski also advises against wearing contact lenses in the shower because that water also can harbor harmful bacteria. Wait until you’re out of the shower to put your contacts in.

Here are other showering mistakes you’re making.

Can You Swim With Contacts?
© Hello World/Getty Images

What types of eye infections can occur?

Technically speaking, the answer to “can you swim in contacts” is yes. But should you swim in contacts? Again, that’s a hard no.

Dr. Gorski says a corneal ulcer, or an open sore on the cornea, is the most concerning type of eye infection related to wearing contact lenses. Though most often linked to bacteria, water-borne parasites also cause this type of infection.

Also called keratitis, it is the most common type of eye infection that occurs while wearing contact lenses. It can lead to scarring of the cornea. In severe cases, you may need a cornea transplant, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

How do you recognize the signs of infection?

It will be hard to ignore the discomfort an eye infection causes. “It is extremely important to see your primary eye doctor if you develop any of these symptoms and keep the contacts out of your eye,” says Dr. Gorski, who lists the following signs of infection:

  • pain
  • redness
  • irritation
  • sensitivity to light
  • decreased vision
  • foreign body sensation, a feeling that there’s something in your eye

“Treatment usually involves a rigorous course with antibiotic drops,” says ophthalmologist Mark Fromer, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

What increases the risk of infection?

“Any underlying eye condition that affects the surface of the eye—such as dry eye disease, recent eye surgery, or blepharitis, would make a person more susceptible to invasion of a bacteria or parasite and therefore increase the risk infection,” Dr. Gorski says.

And remember: Waterlogged contacts can lead to a scratched cornea. That makes it more susceptible to infection.

What types of bacteria and parasites cause harm?

Acanthamoeba is a common organism found in water that can infect the eye when swimming with contact lenses,” Dr. Fromer says.

Acanthamoeba are often present in tap water, lake water, well water, and other water sources, according to the CDC.

It can cause a rare but painful and hard-to-treat eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. The CDC estimates that contact lens wearers account for 85 percent of cases of this potentially blinding infection.

Dr. Fromer says two common types of bacteria infect contact lens wearers: Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Both can lead to bacterial keratitis, an infection of the cornea. Untreated, it can quickly cause vision loss or blindness.

What should I do if I swam with contacts?

The first thing to do is remove your contacts and dispose of them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require that contact lens solution protects against Acanthamoeba.

Wait a few days before wearing contact lenses again, and use artificial tears during that time to flush your eyes. And be vigilant!

“It is important to monitor for signs of an infection and go to your eye doctor if any symptoms develop,” Dr. Gorski says.

Now that you know whether you can swim in contacts, check out these dangerous eye symptoms.

Can You Swim With Contacts?
Can You Swim With Contacts?
Can You Swim With Contacts?
Can You Swim With Contacts?
Can You Swim With Contacts?
Can You Swim With Contacts?
Can You Swim With Contacts?

The coronavirus may live on certain surfaces for days

Covid-19 is still here. And a preliminary study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can remain viable for up to 24 hours on cardboard and for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel; though another study in the Journal of Hospital Infection comparing it to SARS and MERS found it may be able to live on glass, metal, and plastic for up to nine days. Bottom line: it’s best to disinfect with the following cleaning products and these EPA-registered ones.

Bleach

Head to your laundry room and grab that bottle of bleach, according to Consumer Reports. Bleach is a great defense against viruses, and it has been a long time cleaning staple in and outside the laundry room. Don’t use it straight from the bottle though as that would be way too strong. Instead, mix a solution of ½ cup of bleach to a gallon of water. Use this to disinfect everything in your kitchen from the sink to the floor. You can even soak your child’s toys in a bleach mixture of 2 teaspoons bleach to 1 gallon of water, soak for two minutes, then rinse. Make sure you wear gloves when you use the beach, as it can be irritating and drying for your hands. Lastly, don’t keep the bleach solution for more than a few days, because bleach degrades some plastic containers.

Hydrogen peroxide

Head to the medicine cabinet, this time. Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common hydrogen peroxide (it should say 3 percent on it) will deactivate the rhinovirus, which is what causes the common cold. Technically, it “produces destructive hydroxyl free radicals that can attack membrane lipids, DNA, and essential cell components.” Since the rhinovirus is thought to be more difficult to ax than the coronavirus, it’s believed that hydrogen peroxide will work for this as well. Simply pop it into a spray bottle and spray it onto a surface. Let it sit for a few minutes before wiping away.

Isopropyl alcohol

Not to be confused with the alcohol you have in your bar closet, this is an alcohol solution with at least 70 percent alcohol. No need to dilute it, according to Consumer Reports. It’s safe for cleaning every surface but beware of plastics, as it may cause discoloration. Try this bottle, which has more than 99 percent pure isopropyl alcohol.

Soap and water

You’ve likely been hearing so much about this one already, hopefully, you still have some good ol’ fashioned soap remaining. Wash your hands thoroughly, with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. Soap works better than disinfectants if you’re attempting to destroy viruses, according to Marketwatch. It does this by dissolving the fat membrane so the virus becomes inactive. Yup, just your regular soap. Make sure you’re using a clean towel to dry them. Does washing clothes with soap and water protect against coronavirus? What you need to know.

Skip: Homemade hand sanitizer

Contrary to popular social media opinion, homemade hand sanitizer may not work as well as your friends may have you believe. That’s because the hand sanitizers you purchase in the store are correctly formulated with more science than simply mixing a little water, aloe, and essential oils, according to Consumer Reports. If you can’t get your hands on the real stuff, then simply wash your hands with soap and water. Plus, regular hand sanitizer doesn’t last as long as you think.

Skip: Vodka

Pass on the vodka (for cleaning purposes, at least). While alcohol in the percentage range of Isopropyl will do the job nicely, vodka is no match for the coronavirus. Tito’s Vodka even tweeted advice: “Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40 percent alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC.” Next, check out our coronavirus cleaning guide.

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