The breezy spring season is quickly waning and with the weather warming up to make way for summer, which is right around the corner, taking a dip in the pool is on everyone’s mind. Most people tend to talk sunscreen and shielding your skin from the sun, which is highly important and an issue that is quickly becoming common knowledge. UV ray awareness is now a general part of the culture and a built in aspect to makeup and body lotions. However, summer swim safety shouldn’t stop there; many forget about one of the most important parts of their body; their eyes.
Ironically, while this is often the most neglected part of the body, it is also the one of the most vulnerable and easily accessible for bacteria. To top it off, an eye infection is simply one of the most inconvenient, painful and risky ailments to contract. We all rely so much on our eyes for everything that we do; so a blow to our vision is a huge life disruption. The eye is among the most delicate organs on the human body and is susceptible to irritants and even long term vision damage when the natural protective layers are disrupted - unfortunately, the water found in swimming pools, especially public swimming pools will do just that.
Chlorine Doesn’t Always Protect You
While many believe the chlorine in swimming pools is the saving grace we all need to keep the water free of bugs and other things, the levels present are sometimes too low to rid the waters of all the contaminants that may be present. Because the chlorine levels have to accommodate humans and our relatively sensitive skin, the levels needed to completely eliminate the harmful organisms present in the water can’t be reached. Pathogens as serious as E.Coli are on record for having been contracted from contaminated pool water as well as conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye and other bacterial infections - this was due to the failure of the disinfectants in the water to completely rid the pools of all the harmful microbes that are present. Poor water quality has long been blamed for many serious ailments and has even been on record for being the cause of death of swimmers who ingested water full of the E. Coli bacteria.
While the chlorine present in swimming pools is meant to rid the waters of microbes floating around, the most resilient contaminant of all happens to be the most revolting, harmful and toxic; human waste. According to studies, humans inadvertently carry approximately 0.14 grams of fecal matter into pools - this doesn’t include cases of accidental or deliberate defecation or diarrhea, which can happen when there are young children frequenting the pool or hot tub. Multiply this seemingly harmless amount by ten, twenty, or fifty other swimmers, often present in public pools in high season during the summer and you begin to deal with much more significant and troubling amounts of waste, swirling around in the same water that you or your child are swimming in.
In a study done just some years ago, in 2009 by the Water Quality and Health Council, it was found that 1 out of 5 people urinate in pools. While this is a disgusting notion just to think of, the ammonia present in mammalian urine pairs with chlorine to form a chemical byproduct called chloramine. Chloramine is less effective at eliminating bacteria than while in it’s original chlorine state. This byproduct is a known toxin that stays in the water longer than chlorine does, thus depleting the disinfecting nature of pool water, as the chlorine levels drop.
The Human Factor
Whether it’s a community pool or a private pool, no pool is safe from human and other bacterial contaminants. Even if it’s a private pool or hot tub, chances are it is host to plenty of visitors ( as is the nature of pools and their tendency to promote socializing) from time to time. With differing levels of hygiene and health, every group of people, no matter how small, will bring their own set of bacteria into the water. Studies have shown that the majority of people don’t shower before jumping into the pool; this means there is no way of knowing just how many germs any one person is bringing with them.
Private pools, even with a limited group of users, will inevitably contain plenty of contaminants. By comparison, a public pool is basically a breeding ground for bacteria. Public Pools are often a meeting place for children, which brings an even higher level of uncertainty when it comes to hygiene and waste matter being released into the waters. Regardless of age, visitors at public pools are rarely paying attention to or aware of the risks they could be posing by not showering before jumping in.
Eye irritants aren’t always obvious; even if our bodies are clean and showered, we bring fats and oils with us into the water that make their way into our eyes, causing burning, itching and overall irritation. Because we are human, the levels of chlorine needed to completely eliminate the harmful bacteria would be unsafe for our bodies, leaving the water susceptible to more powerful microbes and pathogens.
Just How Vulnerable Are Your Eyes?
Outdoor pools often contain urine, decaying leaves, fungi-infested rainwater, bird feces, dead organisms, insects and other contaminants floating around in the pool water. Meanwhile, our eyes lose their protection when submerged in water. Every time we go for a dip, the cornea’s protective tear film gets washed off. This means the eye is left more vulnerable to all these bacteria and other contaminants that didn’t get eliminated by the chlorine, allowing them to get up close and personal with your eyeball. Unfortunately and rather counter-intuitively, even if you swim with your eyes closed, bacteria can still get into your eyes through the small slits or it can drip in once you come up for air and open them.
Risks For Contact Lens Users
Contact lenses should not be worn in the water. Not only are they likely to get washed out and subsequently lost but there is also a good chance of water getting trapped between the lens and your eye, significantly increasing the likelihood of infections such as acanthamoebic keratitis that lead to corneal ulcers or even blindness.
While these are the ailments and issues that pose the most serious threats to your eyes and ultimately, your vision, there are also the common, temporary issues many are familiar with after a long day of swimming in the pool such as blurry vision, red, stinging and irritated eyes, itchiness, swollen eyelids and excess discharge. These can take hours or even days to subside, ultimately affecting your work or your kids’ school life.
Protecting Your Eyes
Many would attribute these cases of eye infections and other ailments to the idea that it will only happen if you swim with your eyes open in a pool, however, what many don’t know or think about is that even if you swim with your eyes closed, bacteria can still get in your eyes. Your eyelids aren’t necessarily airtight and sealed; also, the water stays on your face for some time, in your eyebrows, eyelashes, eyelids, brows, and all surrounding areas, meaning that when you come up for air, contaminants can easily drip in your eyes once you open them. The best way to protect your eyes is wearing goggles.
Swim Goggles Can Actually Help You See Better in the Water
In addition to providing an airtight seal around your eyes so as not to allow water and its contaminants to leak in, swim goggles can also help in other practical ways, such as keeping your visibility clear while you swim underwater. Water essentially refracts light differently to air such that your vision will be out of focus and blurry if your eyes are directly in contact of water, even if you have 20/20 vision normally.
Swim goggles provide a pocket of air in front of your eyes that allow light to be transmitted to your eyes in a more focused manner. This can even help younger children eliminate running into walls or other swimmers for lack of optimal vision or accurate depth perception. They are also the ideal solution for those that wear glasses or contact lenses, as many goggles offer lenses made to your actual prescription.
Convincing Your Kids to Sport Swim Goggles While Swimming
This summer, as you lather on the SPF packed sunblock, seek shade and keep you and your family hydrated, also be aware of the potential risks that public or even private pools can pose to the eyes. Incorporate a new step in swim safety and insist that your kids and loved ones wear goggles when taking a refreshing dip. Explain to your children why it’s important to shield their eyes from the potential waterborne ailments and help them understand that it is for their own safety. If you have small children that need extra convincing, maybe drawing a comparison to some of their favorite goggle-rocking superheroes will help. Allowing them to choose styles and their favorite colors will give them a sense of ownership and involvement that may boost their willingness to wear them. It may be a difficult step to work into your routine, but when you weigh the risks, you’ll see that it’s well worth it.