Swimming with Contact Lenses

Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about SWIMMING WITH CONTACT LENSES ON.

Most people these days prefer not wearing spectacles to correct short-sightedness and other refractive errors. Contact lenses is a good option whether for cosmetic or sports reasons.

Play a sport with contact lenses on, exercise with them and work with them but NEVER ever swim with them on! Swimming with contact lenses on should be avoided whether it is swimming in lakes, sea, swimming pools or hot tubs.

Firstly, take note that soft contact lenses are hydrophilic in nature, meaning that they absorb water in order to keep soft. This is so that the contact lenses will allow oxygen to permeate through to the cornea of our eyes. Essentially, soft contact lenses are much like a sponge, absorbing whatever solutions they are placed in. The water content makes it easy for the bacteria to get absorbed into the contact lens and mind you, all forms of water that you may swim or dip in are often full of organisms including your bathtub. Do not be misled into thinking that the chlorine in the water would destroy every sort of organism and take note that wearing goggles do not guarantee that water will not get into your eyes.


One dreaded eye infection for a contact lens wearer swimming with contact lenses on is an eye infection called Acanthamoeba Keratitis.

Acanthamoeba is the organism and keratitis means corneal inflammation.

This organism is found in many different kinds of water including sometimes tap water, often when the source is from stored water (water tank). Acanthamoeba Keratitis is a serious debilitating and painful eye infection (corneal ulcer) that can cause blindness.


Accompanying the eye redness, photophobia, blurred vision and profuse tearing is pain that is often quite severe even after the contact lenses are removed. Acanthamoeba Keratitis is often difficult to treat and runs a prolonged course. The infected person runs a high risk of permanent loss of vision in the infected eye, so do seek urgent treatment.


Here are some general points to note if you are contact lens wearer.

  1. Firstly, avoid swimming with contact lenses on!
  2. Always wash your hands with soap (moisturizer-free soap) before handling contacts
  3. Use proper disinfecting lens solutions if you wear monthly disposable contacts.
  4. Change the storage case of your contact lenses frequently.
  5. Apply makeup on your eyes only after you have worn your contact lenses.
  6. Remove lenses the moment you experience any irritation, redness or eye discharge.
  7. Bring along the last worn contact lenses (before you had eye problems) to the doctor in case send they need to be sent to the laboratory for organisms to be identified.
  8. Finally, remember never ever to take shortcuts in caring for your contact lenses.

If you are in doubt about any contact lens related eye problems, always seek professional help.

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