top of page

Swimming with dry eye?

Swimming with dry eye

We all agree swimming is great for mental and physical health – but what about your dry eye?

Almost 4 million people in the UK swim regularly, both in pools and in open water. It is no longer a holiday treat but increasingly a year-round activity for many. There are no barriers for age, or weather, we are embracing the health benefits of swimming in our thousands. But before you dive in, stop for a few minutes and read Dry Eye Zone's advice for dry eye sufferers.

Red, sore, irritated or watery feeling eyes are an all too common after effect of a swim. This is sometimes called ‘swimmers’ eye’, ‘pink-eye’ or allergic conjunctivitis - but what is causing these symptoms, are they damaging and how do you best avoid them?

If you suffer from dry eye take extra care

The symptoms experienced by swimmers are the same as those experienced by dry eye sufferers. Although the impact might only be temporary it is clear that it can make dry eye worse and there are links between frequent swimming and developing dry eye.

The problem with dry eye is that it is a chronic and progressive If left untreated it can result in permanent damage to the ocular surface.

Chemicals in water can be a hazard

Chlorine is still widely used as a disinfectant in swimming pools and is a known ocular irritant. Exposure to chlorine can lead to allergic conjunctivitis which all though self-limiting will exacerbate your dry eye. The irritation is also likely to lead to a degree of eye rubbing which will only make things aggravate the situation. In fact a study among swimming pool workers reported symptoms of ocular irritation such as red eyes in almost half of those studied.

What causes the most ocular irritation is the reaction of the chlorine with nitrogen-containing substances such as urine, sweat and old skin cells. You can reduce this risk by showering before and after swimming.

Microbes will be swimming too

Even treated swimming pools are not bacteria or virus free, but the bacterial load in open water is considerably higher. Exposing the surface of your eyes to microorganisms can increase the likelihood of getting an eye infection. If you wear your contact lens when swimming you will be putting yourself at higher risk of infection from microorganisms like Acanthamoeba. Contact lenses help this single cell organism ‘stick’ to the surface of the eye, facilitating infection. Although these infections are very rare, if you do get one they can be serious.

The answer seems to be – GOGGLES!

We hope this Dry Eye Zone look into the hazards of swimming for dry eye has not put you off swimming, as it has lots of health benefits – including improved wellbeing and positive mood enhancement. Although not the only precaution you can take, it seems sensible that in order to minimise risk dry eye sufferers invest in a good quality pair of googles. Your eye care professional might also be able to supply you with prescription ones so you will not be tempted to wear your contact lenses.

But because life is never simple it is also worth noting that because googles reduce your blink rate they also destabilise your eyes’ natural protective layer – the tear film. Researchers have shown reduced tear film stability after goggle wearing will also temporarily make your dry eye worse! However, newer larger designs maybe overcoming these issues but research is yet to be done.

And don’t forget your eye drops

If you are swimming make sure you bring your dry eye drops with you so you can use them straight after your swim. These eye drops will help to stabilise your tear film and wash away potential irritants.

If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms then you should ask the advice of your eye care professional. Why not book your next eye examination with an independent optician today.


Vera J, Redondo B, Molina R, Jiménez R. Effects of wearing swimming goggles on non-invasive tear break-up time in a laboratory setting. J Optom. 2022 Apr-Jun;15(2):154-159. doi: 10.1016/j.optom.2020.09.003. Epub 2021 Jan 19. PMID: 33478924; PMCID: PMC9068525.

Swimming and Eye Health. (March 2015). U.S. Masters Swimming.

University of Iowa – Hospital and clinics. Eye infections from water. May 2022

G. Fantuzzi, E. Righi, G. Predieri, P. Giacobazzi, K. Mastroianni, G. Aggazzotti

Prevalence of ocular, respiratory and cutaneous symptoms in indoor swimming pool workers and exposure to disinfection by-products (DBPs). Int J Environ Res Public Health, 7 (2010), pp. 1379-1391

A. Florentin, A. Hautemanière, P. Hartemann. Health effects of disinfection by-products in chlorinated swimming pools. Int J Hyg Environ Health, 214 (2011), pp. 461-469

Ahmad SS. Water related ocular diseases. Saudi J Ophthalmol. 2018 Jul-Sep;32(3):227-233. doi: 10.1016/j.sjopt.2017.10.009. Epub 2017 Nov 4. PMID: 30224888; PMCID: PMC6137694.

Jesús Vera, Beatríz Redondo, Rubén Molina, Raimundo Jiménez, Effects of wearing swimming goggles on non-invasive tear break-up time in a laboratory setting, Journal of Optometry, Volume 15, Issue 2, 2022, Pages 154-159, ISSN 1888-4296,

K. Overbury, B.W. Conroy, E. Marks, Swimming in nature: A scoping review of the mental health and wellbeing benefits of open water swimming, Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 90, 2023, 102073, ISSN 0272-4944,


Related Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page