Authored by: OCC LASIK
For a while, it seemed as though summer would never come! Thankfully, the weather is finally nice and there is plenty of outdoor fun to be had! That means it’s time for camping, BBQs, and of course – swimming! No summer is complete without a few trips to the pool, but are you aware of the potential hazards?
Chlorine is essential for keeping any pool crystal clear and sanitary. It protects swimmers against a bevy of potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, chlorine also does a number on your tear film, otherwise known as the shield that defends your cornea. This means that your eye is exposed to potentially harmful bacteria and dirt that the chlorine hasn’t completely eliminated. Although chlorine can be incredibly irritating to the eye, there has been no documentation suggesting that long-term exposure causes permanent effects. Despite that, here is some important information to know for this summer’s pool season:
As previously mentioned, chlorine strips away your eye’s tear film. The tear film is important because it acts as our eyes’ natural defense mechanism. Not only does the deterioration of your tear film expose your eyes to potentially harmful toxins in the water, it also causes an over-concentration of salt in your eye. The over-concentration of salt will actively dehydrate the cornea. That’s why our eyes burn and itch, and we sometimes experience blurry vision after a long day in the pool. Although these symptoms are often temporary and last no more than a few hours after swimming, recovery time does increase with age.
Three things cause conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye: infection, allergy, or exposure to chemicals. This makes the combination of tear film loss and the chemical nature of chlorine a dangerous combination. Symptoms of chemical pink eye may include eye pain, impaired vision, irritation, redness, or swelling. Pink eye is very common and easily treatable.
If you wear contact lenses while swimming, you may be at risk for acanthamoebic keratitis. This serious eye infection occurs when chlorinated water gets trapped between the contact lens and the eye. Serious cases can lead to ulcers on the cornea or blindness. Optometrist Glenda Secor, chairwoman of the American Optometric Association’s contact lens and cornea section says, “I always tell my patients to take their contact lenses out and rinse them, and don’t sleep in them, even if they’re allowed to, if they’ve been swimming in any body of water.”
In order to keep your eyes healthy and free from irritation, here are a few helpful tips to remember before hitting the pool:
Test Your Pool
Measuring your pH balance and chlorine level will help to ensure that your pool is kept at the proper levels. When your chemicals are balanced, your pool will fend off unwanted bacteria and your eyes will be at less of a risk. Furthermore, proper chlorination will benefit swimmer’s skin and respiratory comfort (in addition to eye health!)
As mentioned earlier, chlorine essentially wipes away your cornea’s protective layer. By wearing goggles, the chlorine never touches your eye and therefore keeps your delicate tear film intact. When picking out your goggles, make sure that they fit snuggly. The eyepieces should fit tightly, but not with too much suction. To see if a pair of goggles is the right fit for you, slip them over your face and press the goggles gently into your eyes. If they stay in place for a few seconds, they’re a good fit for your face! If they slip immediately, you may need smaller goggles. Conversely, if they’re too tight then try a bigger pair. The bottom line is that comfort is key!
Make sure you pack some lubricated eye drops along with your other swim stuff. As mentioned, chlorine really dries out your eyes and lubricated drops will help to alleviate redness and irritation.
Don’t Forget to Flush
As soon as you exit the pool, wash your eyes out. The AOA suggests carefully flushing your eyes out as soon as possible after exiting a chlorine pool.
Lose Your Contacts
Leaving your contact lenses in while swimming can result in some nasty consequences. Be sure to take them out before jumping in!
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