By Dr. Zack Steele
I feel like I spend most of my weekends at our neighborhood pool. My kids love to go, no matter how hot or miserable it is in and out of the water. I swear this weekend the pool temperature was the same as it was outside. In any case, splashing and relaxing in the pool is one of summer’s most coveted pastimes. But oftentimes a dip in the pool can lead to itchy and red eyes—which most people mistakenly think is due to the chlorine.
Any water may contain small organisms that can cause sight-threatening eye infections, although they are rare.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) annual healthy swimming report notes that the “chlorine” smell associated with public pools is actually the smell of chemicals that form when chlorine mixes with urine, fecal matter sweat and dirt from swimmers’ bodies. According to the CDC, this chemical, known as chloramine, is the real culprit for those irritated eyeballs. Disgusting right? But really, this shouldn’t keep you from the pool. In fact, there are plenty of ways you can keep chloramine and other bacteria from irritating your eyes, even if you’re a contact lens wearer.
I tell my patients that the best thing that can happen if they open their eyes under water with their contacts on is that the contacts float out and away. Worst case scenario: an organism that can do your eyes permanent harm adheres to the contact lens.
Here are a few tips to prevent infection:
- The best possible protection is to remove contact lenses when swimming and, if necessary, wear prescription goggles.
- If contact lenses must be worn in the pool, water-tight goggles that keep out the small organisms that cause eye infections are recommended.
- If you wear contacts in the pool, you should rinse out their eyes immediately after getting out of the pool.
Despite signs at public pools and warnings from lifeguards and officials, many people still don’t understand the importance of eye health and safety while swimming. Even with chemicals to decontaminate pools, the abundance of people along with the summer heat raising the water temperatures to ideal levels for bacteria to survive, makes the pool a potential hazard. To help both kids and adults better understand, the CDC provides helpful tips such as showering before swimming, not urinating inside the pool and not swallowing pool water. Kids love the pool in the summer, and unfortunately that means cases of eye infections tend to occur more frequently during that period.
So, don’t be afraid of the pool this summer, but take precautions to prevent eye infections and other potential infections as well.
Dr. Zack Steele is a 2003 Graduate of the UAB School of Optometry. His practice, Trussville Vision Care, is located on Chalkville Mountain Road in downtown Trussville