Opening eyes underwater? Get the low-down on eye safety in the water

Whether you’re a regular swimmer or an occasional-dip kind of person, it’s important to understand the effects of swimming with open eyes when thinking about your visual health.  Here at Hodd Barnes and Dickins, many of our patients complain of experiencing irritation in their eyes when swimming.  Depending on the body of water, this could be exacerbated by the water’s salt content, pH level, pool chemicals or living organisms in the water. 

Although this irritation is unlikely to cause permanent damage to your eyes, we’d always recommend wearing protective/prescription goggles whilst engaging in water-based activities.  So whether you enjoy surfing, waterskiing, kayaking, or swimming for general fitness, here’s a short guide on things to consider when opening eyes underwater… 

Swimming in a pool? 


Most public swimming pools are pumped with chemicals to keep the water at a specific pH level and kill bacteria without harming your body.  However, although a pool’s pH generally floats around 7.2 and 7.8, your eyes could still become irritated by prolonged exposure to chlorine if you are opening eyes underwater. 

But it’s not just the chemicals that can irritate your eyes.  When exposed to the dirt, fats and oils that humans bring into the pool on their bodies, chlorine reacts to produce a compound called chloramine.  This compound is a common eye irritant and when opening eyes underwater can cause stinging and redness.  In addition, pools can host an array of micro-organisms, including the dangerous acanthamoeba which – in serious cases – can cause so much damage to your eye that a corneal transplant is required. 

Bizarrely, even though swimming isn’t a contact sport it is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to eye-related injuries.  One of the effects of swimming with open eyes is reduced visibility, so you are more likely to fall victim of a misplaced kick or stroke when swimming with other people. 

Wearing swimming goggles helps to protect your eyes against infection and injury. 

Swimming in the sea or lake? 


Swimming pools are regularly cleaned and debris is constantly filtered out of the water – not so in natural bodies of water.  When opening eyes underwater in the sea or in lakes you need to be particularly attentive to possible dirt and objects floating beneath the surface, as bits of sand and other particles can easily scratch your cornea and cause damage to your vision.  In addition, natural bodies of water contain millions of tiny organisms, bacteria and algae that can lead to dangerous eye infections.  

Contact lens wearer? 

When going on holiday, many people choose to wear contact lenses as they enable them to see whilst swimming without the inconvenience of wearing glasses or cumbersome spectacle-fitting masks.  Yet the effects of swimming with open eyes whilst wearing contacts can be even worse, not least because your lenses can easily swim out of your eyes whilst you’re underwater. 

But other effects can be far more serious than losing a lens.  When exposed to water, contact lenses can shrink onto your eyes causing serious irritation; particles can become lodged beneath your lenses causing corneal scratches and bacterial infections; and contact lenses absorb water and can become breeding grounds for micro-organisms that get trapped against your eye. 

With this in mind, we’d always recommend swimming without contact lenses to avoid bacterial infection.  However, if you do decide to wear your lenses, make sure to wear daily disposable contact lenses and discard them as soon as you get out of the water. 

If swimming is a major part of your active lifestyle, you may also wish to consider laser eye surgery, removing the need to wear contact lenses altogether.  Or if surgery doesn’t appeal you could try the latest orthokeratology technology – non-surgical vision correction using overnight contact lenses to reshape your cornea whilst you sleep. 


In conclusion, there is only one way of adequately protecting yourself from the effects of swimming with open eyes, and that is to invest in a pair of high quality swimming goggles. 

So if water activities play a big role in your life, make sure to talk to a member of our team to discuss your options.