Keeping the eyes safe and healthy while swimming

21 August 2012

The question of whether laser eye surgery or just sticking with glasses or contact lenses is best comes up across a wide variety of sports.

However, it is with water-based sports where, arguably, the most thought has to be put in to make the best decision.

Gavin Rebello, sports vision specialist at @eye_performance, explained: "Water-based sports are a little bit more complicated [than other sports], because the first worry is that the lens might float off.

"The second is infection - that is the most important side of things."

The dangers of eye infections while swimming

Eye infections can be highly irritating, as well as possibly leading to long-term damage to the eyes. This is especially a concern to those who already have to wear eyewear after complications with their sight.

"There are lots of bugs that can live in the water that is safe to drink, but your eyes don't like them. There is one bug in particular called acanthamoeba, which is really not good for your eyes," Mr Rebello pointed out.

Due to these concerns, the eye health expert believes that it is paramount that people wear goggles if they are in the water a lot.

Karen Sparrow, optometrist and education advisor for the Association of Optometrists, agrees with this view.

"With swimming obviously you have got chlorine in the water which can affect the eyes, which can increase the risk of getting an infection in the eye, so it is a good idea to wear goggles," she underlined.

Lower the risk further with prescription swimming goggles

For those who have been prescribed with contact lenses, both experts believe that prescription swimming goggles are the best option to prevent damage to the eyes when in the water.

Mr Rebello acknowledged: "People can get them for about £35 - they aren't expensive and they will probably cover 85 per cent of prescriptions."

For this amount of money, people will be able to continue to see perfectly as if they are still wearing their lenses while doing lengths in a swimming pool, without running the risk of seeing their sight deteriorate should the lens slip or completely fall out.

There are some cases where people cannot use prescription swimming goggles. In these situations, Mr Rebello stated that, in his opinion, the best option is to make sure the contact lenses are in securely and then place goggles over the top before jumping into a pool.

Make sure the eyes get enough oxygen

People opting to wear goggles over contacts when swimming must remove both their goggles and contact lenses once they have exited the pool. They should then spend about 30 minutes without putting another set of lenses in, so that there is plenty of time for the eyes to settle down and rest following the workout.

The reason for these essential steps is because the eyes need oxygen, especially when taking part in physical activities.

Mr Rebello acknowledged: "The front of the eyes get their oxygen from the atmosphere, it doesn't get it from the heart blood supply. As soon as you put a contact lens on the eye, it is going to reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the front of the eye."

Waiting 30 minutes after a stint in a swimming pool without wearing contact lenses provides the eyes with the necessary time to soak up that oxygen from the atmosphere.

Why not eliminate the need for contact lenses altogether?

There are some water-based sports where goggles are not allowed to be worn. Water polo is one such example. However Mr Rebello has a couple of possible solutions to get around this problem.

"You could have laser surgery which would mean you wouldn't need lenses at all. With surgery, you do need a period where you are not swimming while your eye heals," he explained.

"One other option is Ortho-K - and those are contact lenses that you wear overnight that reshape your eye so that during the day you have perfect sight. Philip Schofield wears them."

Both options eliminates the need to worry about eyewear when in the water altogether.

Posted by Philip Briggs


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