When Water and Contact Lenses Don’t Mix

Harrisburg, June 15, 2015 - Flocking to local pools, waterparks, or larger bodies of water, Americans will attempt to escape the heat this summer to enjoy a relaxing day away. However, contact lens wearers sometimes forget important sanitation rules and risk infection by wearing their contacts around water, which often contains bacteria. According to the American Optometric Association's (AOA) 2015 American Eye-Q® Survey, nearly 25 percent of those surveyed admit to swimming in their contact lenses. The Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA) offers contact lens wearers safety tips on how to keep their eyes healthy during the approaching summer days.

Think of contact lenses as 'sponges'

According to the FDA and the POA, contact lenses should not be exposed to any kind of water, including tap water. The American Eye-Q® Survey found that 53 percent of contact wearers claim they shower while wearing their lenses.

Contact lenses are similar to sponges in that they will absorb whatever is in the water, including chemicals or bacteria. Acanthamoeba, a rare, but sight-threatening germ, can be found in freshwater lakes, rivers and unclean tap or well water. It can cause the painful eye infection Acanthamoeba keratitis. In the most severe cases of this infection, a corneal transplant may be required or the end result could be 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 before removing the lens, then clean and disinfect the lens with fresh sterile solution. If the lens is disposable, throw it away. If more pain or redness than normal occurs in the eyes after being in a pool, call an optometrist as soon as possible.

Water increases the need for UV protection

The POA stresses that the importance of UV protection applies to everyone, despite age, especially when around water. For instance, sand and water at the beach can reflect an additional 25 percent of UV rays, increasing the risk of damage to one's eyes.

Just a few hours of intense exposure to sunlight out by the pool or on the beach could potentially causes photokeratitis, known also as the '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.

For optimal eye-sun safety, the POA recommends wearing sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays. The AOA has a guide for choosing sunglasses here.

Water sports and eye safety

An optometrist can recommend the best options for those in need of vision correction while enjoying the water. For swimming and water skiing, well-fitted prescription goggles that offer vision correction may be an option. If one is looking for vision correction and protection against harmful UV rays, the durable, expertly fitted pair of prescription sun eyewear may be ideal. Once out of the water, individuals need to ensure their hands are clean before inserting new contact lenses.

If a patient doesn't want to wear prescription goggles or sun eyewear, his or her optometrists may prescribe daily disposable contact lenses, which offer optimum sanitation since they are made to be thrown out every day. Patients still need to be very careful to avoid tap, chlorinated, or salt water getting in their eyes while wearing contacts. While goggles are the recommended solution for protection, disposable lenses make it easy to replace any contaminated lens with a fresh one.

Should an ocular emergency occur, your local optometrist can help prevent an eye infection or other serious damage from happening. Your eye doctor can answer questions over the telephone and recommend offices or emergency rooms for treatment and care. Click here to review the AOA Sports Vision Section ocular emergency triage card.

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. Visit your optometrist annually, or more if directed, to ensure your eyes are healthy and remain that way. For additional resources about contact lens hygiene and safety, visit contactlenssafety.org or aoa.org. Find an eye doctor near you at www.poaeyes.org.


About the Pennsylvania Optometric Association (POA):

The Pennsylvania Optometric Association is the professional organization for over 1,250 doctors of optometry in Pennsylvania. An affiliate of the American Optometric Association, POA promotes the highest quality eye and vision care by optometrists, represents optometry to state government, provides its members with post-graduate education and membership benefits, and conducts activities in the interest of the visual welfare of the public. For more information, visit www.poaeyes.org.

About the American Eye-Q® survey:

The 10th annual American Eye-Q® survey was created and commissioned in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB).  From February 19-March 4, 2015, PSB conducted 1,000 online interviews among Americans 18 years and older who embodied a nationally representative sample of the U.S. general population. (Margin of error is plus or minus 3.10 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.)

About the American Optometric Association (AOA):

The American Optometric Association, a federation of state, student and armed forces optometric associations, was founded in 1898. Today, the AOA is proud to represent the profession of optometry, America's family eye doctors, who take a leading role in an individual's overall eye and vision care, health and well-being. Doctors of optometry (ODs) are the independent primary health care professionals for the eye and have extensive, ongoing training to examine, diagnose, treat and manage disorders, diseases and injuries that affect the eye and visual system, providing two-thirds of primary eye care in the U.S. For information on a variety of eye health and vision topics, and to find an optometrist near you, visit aoa.org.