The Effects of Swimming With Open Eyes

Family swimming underwater

If you're a regular swimmer, you've probably noticed that your eyes get irritated almost instantly when you open them underwater. Swimming underwater with open eyes affects you in numerous ways, and it's not just irritation from the pH level and pool chemicals like you might expect. The effects of swimming with your eyes open are almost completely reliant on where you're swimming and how you're swimming. Whether it's in a pool, lake or ocean, for fun or competitively, you could be harming your eyes if you don't wear protective goggles.

Eye Irritation, Stinging and Redness

Chlorinated pools are kept at a specific pH level in order for the chlorine to effectively kill bacteria without being toxic to your body; however, this level is too small to completely break down the fats and oils we bring into the pool with us. These fats, oils and bacteria are common eye irritants, but even a bacteria-free pool can cause irritation. Pool water generally has a pH between 7.2 and 7.8, which makes it a mildly basic solution. Your eyes could become irritated from over-exposure to chlorine if the pH is lower than 7.2. Swimming with your eyes open in a properly chlorinated pool may cause irritation but no permanent damage.

Accidental Scratches and Bruises

According to Prevent Blindness America, hospitals treat 40,000 sports-related eye injuries per year. Swimming has some of the highest rates of eye-related injuries, and it isn't even a contact sport. Swimming requires powerful movements, such as kicking, and unless you wear protective goggles, your vision is impaired when you're underwater. The likelihood of an accidental eye injury from a fingernail scratch or haphazard kick increases if you swim with your eyes open around others. In addition, swimming with your eyes open exposes them to dirt and other particles that can scratch your cornea. Swimming with your eyes open in the ocean or a lake leaves you particularly susceptible.

Eye Infections

Water can contain all sorts of substances that should be kept away from your eyes. This is less of an issue if you're swimming in a chlorinated pool, but oceans and lakes allow tiny organisms to live freely. According to Dr. Burt Dubow, on the website All About Vision, one of the worst bugs that can live in a pool are acanthamoeba. They often cause so much damage that a corneal transplant is required. Other organisms like certain algae and bacteria can also cause infections and irritation.

Lost Contact Lenses and Badly Fitting Contacts

Contact wearers often have the short end of the stick when swimming with their eyes open. Your vision is doubly impaired if you remove your contacts, because it's already impaired underwater. This is why one of the most common problems among contact-wearing swimmers is the loss of a contact, which can be extremely inconvenient or dangerous depending on your eyesight. According to Dubow, water can also shrink the size of your contacts. Contacts that are too tight can cause severe eye health problems.