In the age of the daily disposable contact lens, lens wear has become less complicated and more comfortable. But do the old rules apply when it comes to wearing your lenses for swimming?
Are daily disposable contact lenses completely safe?
Despite the tens of millions of dollars invested in soft lens technology over the past two decades the risk of a contact-lens related serious eye infection remains about the same.
How is this possible?
You get rid of the dirty contact lens case. You get rid of the bottles of cleaning solution. You change to a brand-new pair of contact every day. So how can the incidence of serious infection be the same?
This has puzzled researchers for some time but some theorise that wearers of daily disposables have a more relaxed attitude to these lenses because they are thrown away at the end of each day. They may have more lax attitudes to hand hygiene, sleeping in lenses etc than wearers of more traditional contact lenses.
Can I swim in my daily lenses?
The short answer is no. Even with the latest daily disposables, the risk hasn’t gone away.
Tiny organisms called acanthamoeba are present in air, soil and water (including tap water, sea water, bottled water and swimming pools). These tiny germs have a dormant form – when they are so well protected by an outer shell that it is almost impossible to kill them. And they have an active form, which is what happens when they get into the cornea of your eye. They usually can’t break into a completely healthy cornea however.
Acanthamoeba need an injury – even a microscopic one – in order to cause infection. Contact lenses cause microscopic trauma to your eyes, even in normal wear. Trauma during insertion and removal as well as the lens moving around on your eye all day, leads to disturbances in the outer surface of your cornea – and this is how the bugs can get in and wreak havoc.
The standard advice is that no one who wears contact lenses – not even daily disposables – should swim in their contacts. The risk is very small but potentially catastrophic for your eyes.
What are the symptoms?
If you experience eye pain (usually in one eye), redness and inflammation, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and a foreign-body sensation, you should contact your contact lens practitioner immediately. If you do have a corneal infection it is one of the most serious of all eye conditions.
If you cannot see your optometrist promptly, go straight to the emergency department of a hospital.
What is the risk of a serious eye infection with contact lenses?
The good news is that the evidence shows that the risk of a serious sight-threatening eye infection associated with your contact lenses is very low. Only 1 or 2 people out of 10,000 contact lens wearers per year will end up with a serious eye infection.
That said, for these unlucky people, the bad news is that the consequences can be catastrophic. You can end up with scarring to the front of your eye, which can permanently damage your eye sight. You can lose your cornea and require a corneal transplant.
What can I do to reduce my risk of infection?
Even with daily disposable lenses there are things you can do to reduce your risk:
- Don’t swim in your contacts! See below for some alternatives if you want to hit the pool
- Pay attention to hand hygiene – dirty hands are associated with higher risk of infection
- Never wear your lenses overnight – this behaviour causes a significant increase in risk
- Invest in a pair of glasses you love and wear them a few hours per day / one day per week. Studies show increased exposure in daily wear is a risk factor for eye infection.
- Avoid smoking
Is there any advantage to daily disposable contents?
Absolutely! What HAS improved is comfort and from that, success rates in contact lenses.
Daily disposables are replaced every day, so you never have a build-up of protein deposit on the lenses – once the bane of contact lens wearers’ lives. Conditions related to deposited lenses that optometrists used to see all the time (such as giant papillary conjunctivitis - or GPC) are now rarely seen.
But even with daily lenses it’s still essential to see your contact lens practitioner regularly to make sure you’re in the right kind of lenses for your particular eyes and that your eyes are healthy. Up to 70% of people still fail in contact lenses – meaning they have to stop wearing them.
What if I wear lenses and want to swim?
Here are a few options for swimmers:
- Remove daily disposable lenses prior to swimming and replace with a fresh pair after showering and dressing.
- If you use non-disposable lenses, never wear them in the water. Not only do you increase your risk of eye infection, you can also lose them.
- If you’re a serious swimmer or very short-sighted, invest in a pair of prescription swimming goggles.
- The Eye Practice stocks a range of prescription goggles (and dive masks if you’re into SCUBA).
Would you like to wear contact lenses successfully throughout your life? Don’t fall into the 70% who fail in lenses. Talk to the experts. Call The Eye Practice on (02) 9290 1899 or make an appointment online today.
Risk factors and causative organisms in microbial keratitis in daily disposable contact lens wear
F. Stapleton et al.
PLos One. 2017; 12(8): e0181343.