Swimming and The Eye
A shared communal body of water is a beautiful thing. If you’re wondering how swimming affects your eyes and what you can do to protect them, you’re in the right place. Stinging, burning, redness, and dry eyes are all common afflictions of swimmers getting in and out of the pool– and what’s more, it’s not just chlorine that’s causing all the commotion. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual swimming account reports that the smell of chlorine is actually the buildup of chemicals in combination with sweat, urine, and fecal matter from swimmers’ bodies. This wonderful concoction that ails the eyes is actually a chemical called chloramine.
Before the Pool
If you find yourself questioning those pesky mandatory shower stalls at the pool side, don’t worry, you’re not alone. However, showering before swimming is one of the most effective and only ways to prevent perspiration, urine, fecal matter, and bacteria from entering the water.
Keep in mind, encouraging others to shower before swimming not only protects the wellbeing of other swimmers, but also your personal hygiene. Sweat, dirt, lotions, oils, and bodily fluids are just a few components of the collective bathtub you’re about to enter. Feces and urine go hand in hand with public pools, kind of like peanut butter and jelly but not delicious at all. So, make sure to take a shower with soap and water before entering the pool to reduce any bacterial residue in both skin and hair.
Wearing Protective Eyewear
Chemicals can cause reactions on the exterior and edges of your eyes resulting in redness, itchiness, and watery eyes. Exposure to harmful chemicals and bacteria washes away and disrupts the tear film, a thin multi-layer of water, proteins, and lipids on the surface of the eyes. When this occurs, the protective layer is no longer able to function. Rather than keep eyes moist and clean, chemicals cause water to evaporate from the tear film and in turn, the eyes become dry, uncomfortable, and most importantly, exposed. Sensitivity to chlorine can also cause chemical conjunctivitis, a toxic pinkeye that that results in inflamed and irritated eyes.
Well-equipped with a pair of swimming goggles can keep harmful pool chemicals out of your eyes as well as keep those tear films healthy and lubricated. Wearing protective eyewear such as goggles or sunglasses when exposed to these environments can also prevent infection. On the other hand, contact lenses are not a form of protective eye wear. Water is the perfect medium for bacteria to thrive so it’s best to avoid wearing contacts altogether when entering a pool, hot-tub, beach, ocean, or participating in any water- activity.
After the Pool
Infections such as conjunctivitis can arise if any bacteria transfer out of the pool and into your eye. Washing your face with eyes closed can help wash away any chemicals from your outer lids and lashes. Showering with soap and water washes away any bacteria and germs on your body.
People who swim competitively or often develop dry eye as their tear production diminishes resulting in blurry vision. Staying hydrated is important for keeping eyes comfortable in the hot sun so be mindful of your hydration levels. Artificial tears as well as any lubricating eye drops can also relieve irritated eyes before and after swimming.
Preparation is the Key to Success
There’s nothing better than hanging by the water on a hot summer day to cool down. There’s also nothing worse than waking up with pink-eye the next morning due to exposing your eyes to harmful bacteria. To minimize risk and exposure to toxic microorganisms, wearing protective eyewear such as swimming goggles can prevent any sight threatening contaminations. Contact lenses in the pool, ocean, hot-tub, lake, or any exposure to a water environment can also be hazardous. Spread awareness in your community and maximize your health and hygiene simply by wearing goggles and taking a shower before and after swimming.
Christin Lee is a yoga instructor, entrepreneur, and lifestyle blogger living in NYC with a passion for universal human rights. She currently writes for InsiderEnvy a site focused on travel, health, and eyecare.