Are there any risks if I swim without goggles?Eye & LASIK
I’ve been swimming without goggles (eyes opened underwater). Today, I experienced some blurred vision. Are there any risks if I swim without goggles? For example, am I at risk for eye infection/ inflammation?
First of all, water that we swim in is very different from the tears that usually bathe the surface of our eyes.
Swimming pool water is tapwater with added antialgal and other antimicrobial agents such as chlorine. And even though sea water contains various salts, the concentration and type of salts is also very different from that of tears.
One measure of concentration is osmolarity, which is a measure of all the solute particles in a litre of solution. Normal tear concentration in a non-dry eye state is below about 290 mOsm/l, while that of sea water is about 1000 mOsm/l. (Osmolarity of sea water)
While not always the case, swimming pool water often has certain contaminants we would not like in our eyes. (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/01/how-much-pee-is-in-our-swimming-pools-new-urine-test-reveals-the-truth) Sea water is also often contaminated by run off from sewers, storm drains and discharge from ships.
So opening your eyes underwater may be OK for short periods in pristine environments but even so is likely to sting somewhat due to the much lower (swimming pool water) or much higher (sea water) concentration of salts. After a while, the vision may blur as well, due to excessive hydration or dehydration of the corneal epithelium and development of punctate erosions.
In short, yes, there are some risks to your eyes of irritation or infection if they are directly exposed to swimming pool water or sea water. It’s always better to have a pair of goggles on and minimise the amount of water that your eyes are exposed to.
Swimming without goggles in Singapore swimming pools is generally considered safe. As swimming pools are chlorinated to safe levels, you are more likely to experience some burning and irritation due to the cleaning agents in the water.
Such redness and eye irritation is usually transient and temporary. Lubricating eye drops will soothe the eyes and the eyes should return to normal very soon.
Outside of Singapore or in polluted waters, you may be at risk of contrating a variety of micro-organisms including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa including acanthamoeba that would put you at risk of an eye infection.
This risk is higher if you are using contact lenses at the time. Avoid prolonged exposure of your eyes or mucous membranes in such a situation, or better still, don't swim in such a contaminated body of water!
It is not uncommon for patients to notice blurring of vision after swimming in a pool without goggles. Most of the time, vision gets blurry as the eye gets dry due to exposure to the chemicals found in the pool, (eg chlorine). The blurring of vision tends to dissipate as the day progresses. While chlorine does lower the microorganism load in the pool, there are still other microorganism present in the pool which does put one at risk of an eye infection. Unfortunately, goggles do not totally eliminate the risk of infection especially when water seeps in and gets into the eye. This is why we always advise patients not to wear their contact lenses when swimming and for our patients who just had an eye surgery to avoid the pool for a certain duration even with the use of goggles.
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