Don’t swim in your lenses

When a new contact lens wearer comes in for their application/removal/lens care training, we always review proper lens care/handling with them.  

Make sure you wash your hands before handling lenses. Put any makeup on after lens insertion. Don’t sleep in your lenses. Don’t keep your lenses longer than the recommended replacement schedule.  Don’t swim in your lenses.

Wait….don’t sleep in my lenses?

But Doc, what if I want to go into my pool? Do I wear glasses? What if I am out on the boat? Can I go swimming but just keep my head above water? What about hot tubs?

These are all real life questions that we get every single day from our contact lens patients.

Here are some other scenarios to consider:

  • What if you have a child who is on the swim team? Do you prescribe them prescription goggles to ensure they do not wear contact lenses?
  • What is the patient has a high Rx like a +10? Do you really expect them to wear their glasses in the swimming pool?
  • What if your patient doesn’t have any backup glasses and they are going on a vacation tomorrow where there will be water (this is my actual patient)? Do they just go swimming without wearing any contacts and essentially not see any of the beautiful fish when they go snorkeling?
  • What if your patient is participating in a triathlon, and they are used to wearing their contact lenses when they bike and run? Do you expect them to remove their contact lenses during the swimming leg of the race and put on prescription goggles? (Yeah right!)

As practicing OD’s, we have to consider these real-life scenarios.

I tell my patients the risks of wearing contact lenses while swimming , so they are fully aware of the nasty diseases and disorders that may arise from complications of swimming with contacts.  I do tell them about a few cases where patients have developed nasty ulcers and lost their vision permanently from wearing their contact lenses while swimming. That way, they understand the worst case scenario and it is ultimately up to them to make that decision.  

As a -11.00 myope myself, I admit that I have been wearing contact lenses while swimming or boating many times (don’t judge me! ). What is a 16-year-old girl supposed to do at a pool party – wear my glasses? Yeah right!

Ultimately it comes down to the risk/benefit of the scenario.  There will always be situations where the patient would rather take the risk because they really want to wear their contacts. All we can do is inform them of the potential dangers, scare them with terrible stories of real life patients (remember that patient with Acanthamoeba from the lake water?), and let the patient make their own, educated decision.  

If you let them know of the risks and document properly, that is all you can do in my humble opinion. We can’t hold patient’s hands every second of every day, but we can inform them of the potential risks of their behaviors.