Swimming Health for Your Eyes



Summertime means swimming in pools or splashing and swimming in the ocean.  Is this safe for your eyes?  Does the chlorine water or salt water harm your eyes?

Whether you enjoy a leisurely dip in a hotel pool or compete in the Olympic 200-meter freestyle, you may be familiar with the stinging, burning and redness of “swimmer’s eye.”  While swimming is a great form of exercise and a relaxing way to cool down, it can be hard on your eyes.

A thin layer of tears called the tear film coats the surface of our eyes. This tear film keeps our eyes moist, smooth, and clear.  Chlorine and other chemicals used to keep pool water clean can wash away the moist layer of tear film, leaving eyes uncomfortable and red.

People who swim frequently may develop dry eye, where they don’t produce enough tears or the right quality of tears. The eyes can feel gritty or vision can become blurry due to the dryness.  Without the protection of a fully functioning tear film, eyes are exposed to harmful pool chemicals and lingering bacteria.   Of course, persons who already have “dry eyes” will be more prone to worsen their condition.   Chlorine itself can cause a reaction, leaving the surface and edges of your eyes red, itchy, watery, and uncomfortable. If bacteria survives the chlorine, this can lead to an eye infection, such as pink eye (conjunctivitis).

Wearing contact lenses in any type of water – including a pool, hot tub, ocean, or lake puts you at a higher risk for corneal infections.    Bacteria can remain on the lenses even after a short swimming period.  The bacteria can be transferred to the eye and lead to an infection or corneal damage.

What about the ocean?  The salt water in the ocean and tears are pretty much the same thing. That makes it safer to open your eyes in the ocean.  It’s a lot like the saline solution you use for soaking your contacts so it doesn’t bother your eyes as much as chlorine.  However, as we all know, some ocean water is not clean, especially near the shore.  Precautions should be observed here as well to maintain good, healthy eyes.

Here are some ways to keep your eyes healthy while swimming:

Wear Goggles— Wear a pair of swim goggles.   Goggles keep pool chemicals out of your eyes, helping to keep your tear film healthy.

Wash Your Eyes— Splash your closed eyes with fresh water immediately after swimming. This washes chlorine and other chemicals off your eyelids and eyelashes.

Use Eye Drops— Use over-the-counter lubricating eye drops or gel tears before and after swimming to keep the tear film balanced and eyes comfortable.  Check with your eye care provider for recommendations on the best eye drop for your needs.

 Drink Lots of Fluids— Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Staying well hydrated is an important part of keeping your eyes moist and comfortable.

If after swimming you experience redness, itching, irritation, discharge, swelling, or any other unusual symptom related to your eyes, seek medical attention.  It could mean preserving your vision.

Summit Eye Care is located in Winston-Salem.   We would like very much to offer our assistance to you for any eye care needs you may have.   Our doctors provide routine eye care, treatments for glaucoma, premium cataract surgery, laser floater treatment, and much more.   336-765-0960


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