Swimming in Contact Lenses
I've blogged about this before: Newsflash: Professionals Disagree, so I've established that I'm okay with most people at least occasionally swimming in their contacts. Today I read this article about swimming in contact lenses, printed in the Northern Ohio Morning Journal and edited by a fellow O.D.: Should we take a dip while wearing contact lenses?. Let's take a look at a few statements from this article. The piece starts out poorly: "If seek Yahoo Answers for the answer of the question “can you swim with contact lenses?” you will receive poor advice." "If seek?" That's a great way to start out. Let's assume she instead meant something like "If ONE WERE TO seek Yahoo Answers for AN answer to the question 'can you swim with contact lenses?', ONE MAY receive poor advice.'" Whew that's so much better. Let's also ignore for now the fact that I'm a top-two answerer in Yahoo Answers Optical and that statement could be construed by some to be insulting. So here we go with the meat of the article and my line-by-line rebuttal to each statement I disagree with. I'll bold each of the the author's statements, and my retort will follow: The reality is if you swim in contact lenses, you are placing yourself in grave danger of permanent vision loss "Grave" danger? That's debatable. I would agree with something like "slightly higher risk of corneal irritation or infection", but I'll save the term "grave danger" for things like jumping off your two-story house into your backyard pool. I wonder if the term "grave danger" was used by the author or the editing O.D.? Either way it's pretty bad. Swimming with contacts can result in eye infections, irritation and potentially permanent sight-threatening conditions such as a corneal ulcer caused by Acanthamoeba or Pseudomonas. Ok while that is technically fact, it's not very risky. As I said in my last blog post about this, some people say no one should ever drink alcohol too. This is the real world here. Sometimes the very slight risk is worth the benefits. Swimming with contact lenses should be avoided whenever possible to help prevent bacterial contamination of your eye. Swimming with contacts can result in eye infections, irritation and potentially permanent sight-threatening conditions such as a corneal ulcer caused by Acanthamoeba or Pseudomonas. You realize all of those "bugs" are still in contact with your eyes even when you don't wear contact lenses, right? This is like saying "opening a door handle without wearing latex gloves should be avoided whenever possible." Come on. IMO this is borderline fear-mongering. It's just not that risky. Sorry, but it's not. SLIGHTLY more risk - ok yes I will agree to that one. But it's not GRAVELY DANGEROUS to wear contact lenses in the pool. Swimming with contacts can irritate and even damage your eyes. Swimming PERIOD can irritate and even damage your eyes! Heck at least the contacts have UV protection! If water gets in your eyes when swimming, you should remove, clean and disinfect your contact lenses as soon as possible to reduce your risk of eye irritation and infection. Come on, really? You don't think that's just a TAD excessive? Again this is the real world we live in. Does the author or editing O.D. even wear contact lenses? I suspect not. Rigid gas permeable (GP) contact lenses should never be worn while swimming, as they are more likely to dislodge from your eye. NEVER? Never...ever ever ever ever? Even if you were ok with the slight possibility of losing a lens? I mean it's just not really THAT big of a deal. Heck your glasses could be lost in the water too...it's a risk. Also, fresh water and water in swimming pools can cause soft lenses to tighten on your eyes, causing significant discomfort. So what? Chlorine causes your eyes to be uncomfortable, too. So you should NEVER go swimming b/c you're eyes MIGHT get uncomfortable? When water gets in your eyes while swimming, it rinses away the natural tears that lubricate your eyes, and can worsen existing eye conditions such as chronic dry eyes. NO. I absolutely disagree that temporary "rinsing away" of natural tears while swimming in a pool could cause or worsen "chronic dry eye". That is absolutely false. Hopefully that was added by the author after the O.D. looked it over. PLUS! What does that have to do with swimming IN CONTACTS!? "Natural tears" are "rinsed away" for every swimmer. This article is just bad. I'm sorry, but it is. The good news is that if you must swim with contacts, daily disposable lenses are your only option. Really? THE ONLY ONE? Changing modalities is THE ONLY option? Again, I disagree. Always contact your eye doctor immediately if you experience prolonged eye irritation or sensitivity to light after wearing your contact lenses in water. Well that's true anytime your eyes are irritated for a "prolonged" period. How/why is that specific to wearing contacts WHILE SWIMMING? It's not. Some brands of swim goggles come in ready-made prescription versions as well. While they may be an option for you or your children, they do have drawbacks. For example: they don’t correct astigmatism; they come in only the most common prescription powers; and both lenses have the same prescription, while many people’s eyes do not. You forgot one big drawback: they're pretty expensive, especially for use in children who will probably only swim during the summer, and outgrow the custom-made goggles for the next season. For most people this is not a viable option to occasionally swim. That's all the shredding I need to do of that article. It's just bad IMO. Fear-mongering. It's not *THAT* dangerous to swim in contact lenses. It's just not. YES there is SOME increased risk...but is it SO MUCH that NO ONE should EVER do it? And if they do live in the fast lane and are audacious enough to try swimming in contacts are they in GRAVE DANGER of PERMANENT VISION LOSS? Well let me put it to you this way: I have done this 11 years and I still do not have 1 case of swimming-in-contacts acanthamoeba keratitis...nor does any practitioner I know. Do you think ALL of those patients are taking their contacts out to swim? Doubtful. Does pool-induced acanthamoeba keratitis exist in medicine? Sure, but so do all kinds of things. I am ok with most of my patients who have healthy eyes/corneas swimming in their contacts occasionally. I am not going to scold them nor suggest they switch modalities or buy custom-made goggles (that are oh-so-cool looking, BTW). I just wonder if some of these docs live & practice in the real world. I do think that on days that you swim in your contacts, it would be preferable to NOT SLEEP IN THEM that night, even if you usually do sleep in them. That would be my only real "precaution" to swimming in contacts.