Preventing Red Eye and Infection Associated with Swimming Pools

8:18 AM

Unless you've been actively avoiding all news media for the past few weeks, you've probably seen this report out of the Center for Disease Control: your eyes turn red in pool water not due to chlorine, but due to urine exposure.  Studies show that when chlorine interacts with urine and body waste, the ammonia and chlorine interact to form chloramine -- the chemical polymer responsible for that distinctive "pool" smell and those red, irritated eyes.  Shockingly, that's not even the worst thing the CDC found in your swimming pool!  That distinction belongs to Cryptosporidium, a chlorine resistant parasite found in human diarrhea that is the leading cause of water-born illness in the US. Studies do show that in immune deficient rhesus monkeys (and theoretically humans as well) Cryptosporidium can lead to a resilient and contagious conjunctivitis (pink eye in layman's terms).

Wearing goggles is an essential step to protect your eyes!  via

So if you are going to be in the pool this holiday weekend, what's your best way to protect your eyes from irritation and infection risk?

  • Wear goggles. Goggles form a tight shield around the face that can limit ocular exposure to anything in the water.  If you need glasses to see, you can also purchase prescription goggles at most local opticals.
  • Bring contact lens solution and a case.  The safest course of action is to remove your contact lenses before you get in the water.  If you do get in the water with contact lenses on, the first thing you need to do when you are done swimming is to wash your hands, remove and clean your contact lenses with a multipurpose solution.  Never rinse your lenses in tap water to clean, and rinsing them with saline will help with irritation but cannot fully clean lenses like a multipurpose cleaner can.  Do not keep wearing those lenses the rest of the day without properly cleaning the pool water away.
    If your eye looks like this, take our your contact lenses and don't put them back
    in until your eye returns to its' normal appearance!  via
  • Consider daily disposable lenses. If you are a frequent swimmer, I highly recommend daily disposable contact lenses so that you constantly have a fresh, uncontaminated contact lens every single day.  
  • Play it safe.  If your eyes are red and irritated, take your contact lenses out.  The worst thing you can do is ignore your eye when it is telling you something is wrong. Contact lenses trap irritants and parasites against the eye, preventing the eye from being able to blink these dangerous particles away as they would naturally.  If your eye feels irritated, it is a signal not to be ignored!
  • Be even more vigilant about not wearing contact lenses if you are swimming in lakes! Despite the shock value of this type of news, swimming in pools treated with chlorine are so much safer than swimming in untreated lake water that is full of pathogens.  The most common blinding corneal infections associated with contact lens wear are caused by exposure to untreated lakes, or exposure to less rigorously treated hot tub or tap water.  Deanne Soza, the young gymnast we talked about in this article is an unfortunate example of how dangerous it is to wear contact lenses in hot tubs -- the residual infection nearly blinded her in both eyes and has been a major setback to her career.  Don't let yourself become the next sad story shared on social media as a warning to others.

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