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The Safety of Contacts Lenses While Swimming
- Updated: August 17, 2014
Although the concept of contact lenses was first raised in 1508 by Leonardo da Vinci, it was not until 1887 when the first pair was actually made, although at that time, glass was used and the lens designed to cover the entire eye. Then in 1948, contacts were redesigned, this time from plastic and made to cover just the cornea. After numerous changes, soft contacts were introduced in 1971, followed by gas permeable lenses in 1978. However, it was not until 1981 that soft lenses received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Initially, contact wearers were advised never to wear lenses while swimming, primarily due to risk of them floating away if the eyes were accidentally opened but also because of risk associated with pool chemicals such as chlorine. However, as manufacturing of contacts improved, they became safer to wear although many people still preferred to wear goggles while in a swimming pool.
Recently, the question about contact lenses being safe to wear while swimming has again been raised and what people discovered is that according to the FDA, contacts, regardless of type, should never be worn not only in a swimming pool but any body of water.
The material used for modern days contacts are porous, which means they easily absorb chemicals, as well as bacteria. Because of this, contact wearers could develop an infection, irritation to the cornea, and a number of other conditions that pose risk to sight. Of course, lakes, ponds, and the ocean contain microorganisms whereas swimming pool water does not but even then, risk of developing an infection exists.
Another problem has to do with tightening of the lenses on the eye, something that can cause irritation and even slight abrasion. Now, if someone wants to wear contacts while swimming, the best option is daily disposable lenses. These contacts are specially designed to be worn just once and then tossed out, thereby dramatically reducing risk.
Even with daily disposable lenses, the FDA strongly recommends removing and replacing the contacts immediately after getting out of the pool but as mentioned, also wearing goggles for added protection. If during or after swimming an individual experiences any type of irritation, redness, pain, and/or light sensitivity, medical attention should be sought.