Don’t swim with contact lenses, eye doctors say

With local pools and swimming areas opening for summer, eye specialists want to remind swimmers about eye safety — especially those swimmers who wear contact lenses.

“There are several types of bacteria and other microorganisms in pool water, especially public pools, which can cause eye irritation,” said Dr. Ann Wonderling, president of the Wisconsin Optometric Association. “In some cases, these organisms can cause a serious, sight-threatening infection.”

Despite the fact that most pools and hot tubs have disinfection systems in place, disease outbreaks in treated water still occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wonderling points out that bacteria in the water can adhere to contact lenses and cause eye infections.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that contact lenses not be exposed to any form of water, whether it’s from a swimming pool, hot tub, shower or kitchen tap, said Dr. Edward Bennett, of the American Optometric Association. But pools pose a special risk. “There are many types of bacteria and other microorganisms in pool water, and if the eye is already irritated, these organisms can cause a serious sight-threatening infection, often called a corneal ulcer,” Bennett said. “In these cases, the eyes will be red and painful, and vision will be blurred.” He recommends seeing an eye doctor immediately if this occurs.

Eye specialists also recommend wearing watertight goggles, especially for wearers of contact lenses. They also say contact lenses should ideally be removed before swimming, showering or using a hot tub, and lenses that are exposed to water should be thrown out immediately.