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Chlorine’s Effect on the Eyes

July 24, 2023

If you’re swimming in a man-made pool, there’s every chance that chlorine is used to maintain the water. Chlorine serves an important role of keeping harmful bacteria from flourishing, but it also has a bad side effect: It strips the tear film off your eye, which is the essential layer covering your cornea that’s responsible for keeping dirt and germs out of your eye tissue.
When you swim in a chlorinated pool, you’re at risk of an infection. After all, while the chlorine is intended to keep bacterial growth under control, there is always bacteria present. Add that to a compromised protective layer, and you might find yourself suffering from eye irritation (or worse), especially if you swim often or use a pool that is especially crowded or poorly maintained.
What Eye Conditions Can Chlorine Cause?

You might find yourself getting out of the pool with red and irritated eyes. This is a common response to chlorinated water and isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. The issue arises when you swim so often, for so long, or in water with such a high bacteria count that you end up with an eye condition.
The most common eye conditions causes by chlorinated water are:

  • Conjunctivitis: This is a type of eye infection that can be bacterial or viral by nature. Since it thrives in water, it’s very common to contract it while swimming in a pool. The symptoms include severe redness, irritation, itchiness, and crusting. You’ll want to see your doctor for treatment.
  • Acanthamoeba keratitis: This is an amoeba (a single-cell organism) that can live in water. You risk harboring it if you swim with your contact lenses in because it can get between your cornea and contact lens, leading to corneal ulcers that can permanently damage your vision. Infections are also possible.
  • General discomfort: Because chlorine dehydrates your eyes and removes the protective tear film, it’s not surprising if you climb out of the pool with blurry or distorted vision. However, these side effects should only be temporary. If blurriness, distortion, redness, or itching persists for more than an hour or two, talk to your doctor.

Ways to Protect Your Eyes from Chlorine

There’s nothing more refreshing than jumping into a pool on a hot summer day, and you don’t have to forego the fun just to protect your eyes. Instead, just be sure you take some extra precautions before and after swimming.
  • Never wear your contact lenses while swimming. If you need help seeing, get prescription goggles instead.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes while you’re in the water. If they feel itchy or irritated, get out, wash your hands, and wipe around your eyes with a clean cloth.
  • Especially if you’re going to be putting your head under water, wear goggles that fit well around your eyes, and don’t let them get soaked before putting them on.
  • When you get out of the pool to apply sunscreen or take a break, wash your hands right away.
  • If you often suffer from irritated eyes after swimming, bring a gentle eye wash to flush them out after you leave the pool. If the problem persists, talk to your doctor.

Being Proactive About Your Vision

For many, swimming is just as essential to summer as the sun itself, so don’t let worries about your eyes stop you from enjoying this activity. Instead, take the necessary steps to protect your vision — and that includes checking in with your eye doctor at least once a year to be proactive about your eye health.

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