Swimming Season: What does Chlorine do to the Eyes?

Summer is officially here, and for many of us that means it is time to take a refreshing swim. In this blog post, I want to share some ways to protect your eyes from the chemicals used in pools – specifically chlorine.

Chlorine has many benefits, yet if you’ve ever opened your eyes in a chlorine pool, you also probably noticed some sort of irritation, which leads us to the overarching question; does chlorine have a negative effect on your eyes?

Conjunctivitis

The water in pools is chlorinated for a simple reason; to keep it clean. Chlorine sanitized water kills almost all disease causing pathogens including, bacteria and viruses that commonly grow in water otherwise. Chlorine is the most efficient way to sanitize water, hence its frequent use.

However, while it’s purpose is efficient, it can also rid both your hair and skin of it’s natural oils, ultimately leading to dry skin and crispy hair. Chlorine also affects our eyes. When your eyes are subjected to chlorine underwater, the thin tear film over your cornea is washed away. The proteins in the film naturally fight against bacteria, and while chlorine kills almost all of the pathogens within the water, bacteria that can harm your eyes is still present. When the tear film is gone it leaves the eye directly exposed to any pathogens within the water. Subsequently leaving the eye much more prone to infection, the most popular being bacterial and viral conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye.

Dry Eyes

Another side effect of chlorine has to do with the red, irritated eyes that you have when you get out of the water. Chlorine dehydrates the cornea, leading to the dry irritation that is received after exposure. With dry eyes, temporarily blurred vision is a common symptom.

Acanthamoebic Keratitis

If you wear contacts, it is especially important that you take the necessary steps to avoid dangerous infections. Acanthamoebic Keratitis is an eye infection caused by a special amoeba being trapped under the contact lens. Acanthamoeba keratitis can lead to ulcers on the cornea or potential complete blindness. Contact lenses should always be taken out and rinsed after swimming anywhere.

While there have been no proven long term effects of chlorine to the eyes, it is important to take safety precautions to avoid infection and irritation that could further damage your vision. To avoid exposure of the eyes to chlorine, be sure to wear fitting, water-tight goggles. Salt water also contains its fair share of contaminants so specialists also recommend wearing goggles in the ocean.

Next time you are heading to the pool, be sure to grab your goggles, sunscreen, and lots of water!

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