Pool proof: Doctors of optometry float tips on swimming safety

Pool proof: Doctors of optometry float tips on swimming safety

Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional opening of public swimming pools and water parks across the country-and provides a timely opportunity for doctors of optometry to float tips to patients about potential water hazards to their eyes.

In general, it is best for contact lens wearers to avoid all water, especially Crypto-contaminated water.

This week also is Healthy and Safe Swimming Week. Access AOA resources here and CDC resources here.

A warning is particularly timely given a May 18 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notice of an uptick in the number of parasitic infections due to feces in pools and water playgrounds between 2014 and 2016. There were twice as many outbreaks (jumping from 16 to 32 cases) caused by Cryptosporidium during that period, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Cryptosporidium is a parasite spread when the feces of an ill person enters recreational water. A swimmer who swallows the Cryptosporidium-contaminated water can become ill for up to three weeks with diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea. The parasite can stay alive up to 10 days despite chlorine-treated water.

Among the infectious symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting  

Communicating risks to patients 

"People should not wear contact lenses when swimming in pools or natural waters such as streams or rivers, lakes, and the ocean," says William J. Benjamin, O.D., Ph.D., who practices at the Alabama Eye & Cataract Center, in Birmingham, Alabama. "These waters are contaminated to various degrees with microorganisms that can get in your eyes and create infections.

"The infections are more easily acquired when one is wearing contact lenses," Dr. Benjamin adds. That's because contact lenses can harbor microbes (small bugs that can't be seen by the human eye) between the lens and the eye.

Swimming is good, healthy exercise. Yet, there are risks at these water recreation sites, especially for contact lens wearers.

Melissa Barnett, O.D., principal optometrist at UC Davis Eye Center, is a council member of the AOA Contact Lens and Cornea Section. Contact lens wearers should avoid all water, including Crypto-contaminated water, Dr. Barnett says. She also noted another especially dangerous water-borne infection: Acanthamoeba keratitis, which can be painful and hard to treat. It can cause blindness or require corneal treatment.  
"In general, it is best for contact lens wearers to avoid all water, especially Crypto-contaminated water," Dr. Barnett says. "Contact lens wearers should never rinse or store contact lenses in water due to the potential risk of eye infections from germs in water."

She adds, "If contact lenses must be worn in water, it is best to use daily replacement soft contact lenses and then dispose of those lenses after the water activity."

Her safety tips for swimmers:

  • Remove contact lenses before swimming, showering or using a hot tub.
  • If contact lenses must be worn in water, use watertight goggles.
  • If there is any water exposure, dispose of contact lenses immediately.

If swimmers should experience any of the following symptoms after swimming, Dr. Barnett suggested they see their doctor of optometry.

Among symptoms she noted:

  • Discomfort or pain
  • Excess tearing or other discharge
  • Unusual sensitivity to light Itching, burning or gritty feelings
  • Unusual redness
  • Blurred vision

May 26, 2017

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