Help swimmers make a safe splash this summer

Help swimmers make a safe splash this summer

"Children can potentially lower the risks of these problems by beginning a lifetime of protection that includes goggles, sunglasses and hat wear, especially during the summer."

As pools begin to open for the summer, doctors of optometry can help protect swimmers' eyes by alerting them that what they can't see in the water is what they should look out for.

This week marks National Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and doctors can leverage the campaign and resources to start a conversation with patients about safe swimming.

Unlike the shark in the water on the big screen, swimmers can't see the microscopic organisms that can accumulate in a pool and potentially lead to an eye infection.

"Swimming is good for exercise and recreation, but swimmers can enjoy the experience even more by protecting their eyes against recreational water illnesses and the ultraviolet rays from the sun if they spend many hours poolside," says Jeffrey Walline, O.D., Ph.D., chair of the AOA's Contact Lens & Cornea Section and associate dean for research at The Ohio State University College of Optometry.

Ocular risks also can be cumulative in the summer, Dr. Walline adds.

For instance, the effects from ultraviolent radiation build up over a lifetime and are linked to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration in adults, Dr. Walline says. Alternately, just a few hours of intense exposure to sunlight out by the pool or beach can lead to photokeratitis, or sunburn of the eye. Its symptoms include red eyes, a gritty sensation in the eyes, sensitivity to light and excessive tearing.

"Children can potentially lower the risks of these problems by beginning a lifetime of protection that includes goggles, sunglasses and hat wear, especially during the summer," says Dr. Walline, adding that the same counsel applies to adults.

Communicate safe swimming practices with AOA resources
To maximize safe contact lens wear, Dr. Walline recommends swimmers do at least one of the following:

  • Avoid wearing contact lenses in the pool.
  • Wear goggles over their contact lenses, if needed.
  • Remove their contact lenses immediately after swimming and disinfect them overnight or discard them.

"Contact lenses are known to harbor an increased number of microbes (small bugs that cannot be seen) during swimming, and exposure to water during contact lens wear increases the risk of eye infections, according to some studies," Dr. Walline says.

Protection is often overlooked against UV radiation reflecting off surfaces such as water, lightly colored cement and sand. Sunglasses will protect the eyes.

"The danger of UV to the eyes is not only directly from the sun up above, but from the sides and below as well," says Dr. Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., chair of AOA's Commission on Ophthalmic Standards and a professor of optometry at Pacific University College of Optometry.

"Good sunglasses will absorb nearly all UV incident on the lenses, and excellent sunglasses will fit the wearer properly, sitting close to the face and eyes, blocking UV coming from the sides and below," says Citek who recommended children and adults wear sunglasses.

Click here to find resources that doctors of optometry can use to educate patients, and the public, about safe swimming.

Beyond good contact lens hygiene, swimming goggles are worth the investment, if they protect against eye infections.

"A good pair of swimming goggles should not leak and allow pool water to accumulate in them," Dr. Walline says. "Swim goggles can include a prescription to allow clear vision in and out of the pool or, without a prescription, to allow clear vision while wearing contact lenses."

May 25, 2016

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