Many of us in Contra Costa County get our exercise all year round in pools, but the end result can leave you with blurry, red swimmer’s eyes. Knowing some basics—like how pool water affects your eye health—could prevent irritated swimmer’s eyes.

What’s safer for your eyes—chlorine or saltwater?

Saltwater is a more natural approach and safer on skin, hair, and your eyes. Pools sanitized with chlorine are generally safe and bacteria free. Chlorine mixes with organic matter and kills unhealthy bacteria. The downside is that it creates chemical compounds that can irritate skin and eyes. Saltwater pools use salt to keep the pool clean rather than chlorine tablets or other chemicals. Chlorine is a byproduct of the salt, so very small amounts are present in saltwater sanitized pools. Saltwater pools are generally considered safer and gentler to your eyes and skin.

“Saltwater is a more natural approach and safer on skin, hair, and your eyes,” says Arthur Kobayashi, OD, a VSP network doctor—and avid swimmer—on the North Shore of the Hawaiian Island, Oahu. “Eye irritation will be greatly reduced by swimming in saltwater.” Keep in mind that chlorinated pools are safe, but may cause some people more irritation than others.

Can I swim with contacts?

Contact lens wearers beware! Dr. Kobayashi recommends wearing goggles if you want to open your eyes in pool water. He warns that, “The water could damage your lenses—they could change shape, rip, fold in your eye, or even get washed away.” The possibility of bacteria contaminating your lenses and causing eye infections also exists.

Why do my eyes turn red?

“Red eyes occur when blood vessels near the surface of the eye become enlarged and dilated,” explains Dr. Kobayashi. Increased exposure to irritants or chemicals may cause your eyes to become irritated. If you’re prone to getting red eyes from swimming, you should always wear goggles in the pool.

How can I soothe my eyes?

If, after a long day at the pool, your once clear view of paradise becomes foggy and blurry, flush your eyes with a cool eye rinse or try saline eye drops for quick relief. A good tip is to add them to your list of must-haves for your beach bag this season!

Are your eyes irritated, red and itchy even when you haven’t gone swimming? You could have pink eye. Find out if your symptoms match those of the highly contagious infection.


For more helpful eye care and vision care tips, please visit our main blog page.