What are the real dangers of swimming and showering in your contact lenses?
Updated: Oct 26, 2022
Eye doctors always advise to keep your contact lenses (and cases) free from touching water. We also advise to never swim or shower in your contact lenses. But why is this?
The truth is, is that even though the risk of infection is low, the types of infections you can get by combining an eye, a contact lens, and the microbes in water (even filtered tap water!) can be catastrophic to the eye.
The picture below is from a patient with a classic acanthamoeba infection in their cornea (front portion of the eye). This is an extremely serious parasitic infection of the cornea that should be treated quickly.
Storing and handling contact lenses improperly can lead to an increased risk of acanthamoeba infection caused by an amoeba which is found commonly in water, soil, air, cooling towers, heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and sewage systems. The amoeba in the cornea is killed with a strong eye drop called PHMB (which is also in pool cleaner).
Contact lenses are constantly moving around on the front of your eye (cornea). This creates small areas where bacteria, parasites, and fungi can get in and access deeper parts of the cornea. For this reason, infections in contact lens wearers can be much more serious than in this who do not wear contact lenses.
Tips to keep your lenses and their cases free from water:
Avoid showering, swimming, or sleeping in your contact lenses.
When in doubt, take them out: keep extra lens storage supplies with you in case of emergency.
Do not use water to clean or store your lenses.
If you forget or run out of cleaning and storing solution, remember you can use any preservative-free artificial tear option available at your nearest pharmacy (though they might be a little pricier). Purchase supplies for your specialty lenses here.