Spread awareness about swimming and eye protection

Spread awareness about swimming and eye protection

Splashing and relaxing in the pool is one of summer's most coveted pastimes. But often times a dip in the pool can lead to itchy and red eyes—which most people mistakenly think is due to the chlorine.

"Any water may contain small organisms that can cause sight-threatening eye infections, although they are rare."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) annual healthy swimming report notes that the "chlorine" smell associated with public pools is actually the smell of chemicals that form when chlorine mixes with urine, fecal matter sweat and dirt from swimmers' bodies.

According to the CDC, this chemical—known as chloramine—is the real culprit for those irritated eyeballs.

Raise awareness to prevent eye infections
This news shouldn't keep you—or your patients—from the pool, however. In fact, there are plenty of ways you can keep chloramine and other bacteria from irritating your eyes, even if you're a contact lens wearer.

Jeff Walline, O.D., Ph.D., professor at The Ohio State University College of Optometry, has a few tips.

"The best possible protection is to remove contact lenses when swimming and, if necessary, wear prescription goggles." Dr. Walline says.

"If contact lenses must be worn in the pool, water-tight goggles that keep out the small organisms that cause eye infections are recommended," Dr. Walline adds.

He also adds that swimmers should rinse out their eyes immediately after getting out of the pool. 

Despite signs at public pools and warnings from lifeguards and officials, many people still don't understand the importance of eye health and safety while swimming. However, Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program, believes there are easy ways to convey these messages to public.

"We certainly don't want to scare people away from swimming," Hlavsa says, "It's more about doing it in a healthier way."

To help both kids and adults better understand, the CDC provides helpful tips such as showering before swimming, not urinating inside the pool and not swallowing pool water.

Dr. Walline believes there's more awareness around these issues this year, thanks to popular news stories, like this one from the "Today Show," that are helping to educate people and ODs on increased eye risks in pools.

"Swimming is one of the more common activities among children during the hot summer months, so cases of eye infections tend to occur more frequently during that period," Dr. Walline says. "As a result, there are also far more public health messages focused on swimming and contact lenses during that time."

Dr. Walline says all ODs should talk to their patients about proper eye health in swimming pools to help prevent infections.

"The No. 1 thing ODs should discuss is the risk. Any water may contain small organisms that can cause sight-threatening eye infections, although they are rare," Dr. Walline says.

Learn more about contact lens safety and swimming safety here.

July 17, 2015

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