Why Water and Contact Lenses Don’t Mix

Water often contains bacteria that can cause eye infections;
Dr. Sean Claflin recommends good hygiene practices for contact lens wearers

Denver, CO – Looking to escape the summer heat, Americans will flock to local pools, waterparks, or larger bodies of water for a day of relaxing relief or to play water sports. However, contact lens wearers sometimes break important sanitation rules and risk infection by wearing their contact lenses around water, which often contains bacteria. Dr. Sean Claflin, Colorado Optometric Association President, offers contact lens wearers safety tips on how to keep their eyes healthy.

Contact lenses ‘are like sponges’

According to the FDA and the AOA, contact lenses should not be exposed to any kind of water, including tap water and water in showers. 53 percent of contact lens wearers say they shower while wearing their lenses, according to the American Eye-Q.

“Contact lenses are like sponges and will absorb whatever is in the water, including any chemicals or bacteria that may be present,” said Dr. Sean Claflin. “A rare but sight-threatening germ, Acanthamoeba, can be found in freshwater lakes, rivers and unclean tap water or well water and can cause a painful eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. In the most severe cases, it can require a corneal transplant or even result in blindness.”

If a contact lens is accidentally splashed with water, use artificial tears to lubricate and float the lens on the eye, wash and dry your hands and remove the lens, then clean and disinfect the lens with fresh sterile solution, or if it is a disposable lens throw it away. If more pain or redness is observed in the eyes than normal after being in the pool, call an eye doctor as soon as possible.

UV protection especially important around water

Dr. Claflin stresses that the importance of UV protection applies to everyone, especially when around water. Sand and water at the beach, for instance, can reflect an additional 25 percent of UV rays, increasing the risk of damage to one’s eyes.

“Even just a few hours of intense exposure to sunlight out by the pool or beach could cause photokeratitis, known as a ‘sunburn of the eye,’ which can cause red eyes, a foreign-body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing,” said Dr. Claflin.

For optimal eye-sun safety, the COA recommends wearing sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays.

Eye safety and water sports

An optometrist can recommend the best options for those who need vision correction while enjoying the water. For swimming, water skiing or other sports, well-fitted prescription goggles that offer vision correction may be an option. Another route may be a durable, expertly fitted pair of prescription sun eyewear, which not only provides vision correction but also protects against harmful UV rays. Once out of the water, individuals need to be sure their hands are clean before inserting new contact lenses.

If a patient doesn’t want to wear prescription goggles or prescription sun eyewear, his or her optometrist may prescribe daily disposable contact lenses, which offer optimum sanitation since they are made to be thrown out every day.

“Patients will still need to be very careful not to get tap or swim water in their eyes while wearing contacts and goggles are recommended for best protection, but disposable lenses make it easy to replace any contaminated lens with a fresh new one,” said Dr. Claflin.

Should an ocular emergency occur, your optometrist can help prevent an eye infection or other serious damage from occurring. The eye doctor can answer questions over the telephone and recommend an office or emergency room visit for care.

Whether aiming to champion the tallest water slide or set a new goal on water skis, remember to practice good hygiene and safety with contact lenses and visit an optometrist annually, or more often if directed, to ensure your eyes are healthy. To find an eye doctor in your area, visit colorado.aoa.org and use the Find a Doctor feature on the homepage.

For any media inquiries, please contact the Colorado Optometric Association at coa@visioncare.org

About the Colorado Optometric Association (COA):
The Colorado Optometric Association (COA) is the professional organization of optometrists in Colorado. Over 600 Colorado Doctors of Optometry are voluntary members of the Association.

Since 1892, the COA has assisted its members in providing the highest standard of professional care to their patients by sponsoring continuing education programs for doctors, advocating in local and state governments for programs and laws that represent patients’ best interests, and providing information for the public. For more information, please visit www.visioncare.org or call 303-863-9778.

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