August Newsletter: What Is Swimmer's Eye and How Can It Be Prevented?

Family enjoys day at the pool.

Red, Irritated Eyes May Mean You Have Swimmer's Eye

Wondering why your eyes are sore and red after a day at the pool? A common condition called swimmer's eye may be to blame.

What Causes Swimmer's Eye?

Swimmers are often so eager to jump in the pool that they ignore signs asking them to shower first. In fact, 54 percent of Americans surveyed by the Water Quality & Health Council said that they don't shower before entering a pool.

Skipping the showers means that sweat, sunscreen, makeup, deodorant, and dirt mingle with chlorine creating chemical compounds called chloramines. Urinating or defecating in the pool also contributes to chloramine formation.

If you've ever noticed a strong chlorine smell when swimming, chloramines in the water were probably the reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that chloramines turn into gas when they come in contact with the air and create the strong odor.

Chloramines irritate the eye and cause a condition known as swimmer's eye. The problem happens when the chemicals interfere with the tear film that moisturizes and protects the eyes. Chloramines can also irritate the skin and trigger asthma attacks.

Swimmers eye may cause these symptoms:

  • Sore Eyes
  • Stinging Pain in the Eyes
  • Red Eyes
  • Dry Eyes
  • Blurry Vision
  • Sensitivity to Light
  • Tearing
  • Eye Discharge

Chlorine kills germs that can cause illnesses and infections. Unfortunately, when chloramines are present, chlorine isn't quite as effective. If you swim in a pool with chloramines, you may be more likely to develop conjunctivitis (pink eye) or other other infections. Conjunctivitis makes the eyes look red or pink and causes symptoms similar to swimmer's eye. Although swimmer's eye symptoms may get better in a few hours, conjunctivitis can last a week or longer.

Preventing Swimmer's Eye

You can reduce your risk of swimmer's eye by following these recommendations:

  • Hit the Showers. Take a few minutes to use the showers at the pool before entering the pool. If the pool doesn't have showers, shower at home. All About Vision suggests showering for at least one minute.
  • Don't Use the Pool as a Toilet. Check out the location of the restrooms when you arrive at the pool. Tell your children why it's a bad idea to pee in the pool and accompany them to the restroom as needed.
  • Use Lubricating Eye Drops. Eye drops or artificial tears help reduce irritation caused by chloramines. Place them in your eyes before you enter the pool and when you're finished swimming.
  • Try Compresses. Moist compresses can be helpful in reducing eye irritation and pain. Make a compress by wetting a washcloth with cool water. Wring out the washcloth until it's slightly damp. Put the compress over your eyes for five to 10 minutes at a time.
  • Wear Goggles. Goggles prevent water from touching your eyes and help you avoid swimmer's eye symptoms.
  • Clean Your Eyelids. Follow the American Academy of Ophthalmology's recommendation and splash clean water over your closed eyelids when you finish swimming to rinse away chlorine and other irritants.
  • Hydrate. Your entire body needs plenty of water, including your eyes. Bring a bottle of water to the pool and sip it throughout the day to help keep your eyes moist.
  • Don't Swim in Your Contacts. Wearing contact lenses may make it easier to find your way back to your towel, but contact lenses can trap germs that could cause infections. Remove your contacts before swimming, or ask your eye doctor about prescription swim goggles.
  • See Your Optometrist if Symptoms Persist. Let your eye doctor know if your swimmer's eye symptoms last more than a day or two or if you have severe pain or discharge or notice a change in vision.

Are you struggling with swimmer's eye symptoms? Call our office to make an appointment with the optometrist.


Water Quality & Health Council: Survey, 5/19/2020

All About Vision: Is It Bad to Open Your Eyes in the Pool?, 1/10/2023

American Academy of Ophthalmology: What You Should Know About Swimming and Your Eyes, 8/16/2016

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Red Eyes and Swimming, 4/2/2022

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