We’ve all made faces at mates underwater in the pool, and seen kids run around with blood-red eyes after swimming lessons. We might have all also been tempted to jump into the ocean without our snorkel masks and have a look with our eyes open. Sure, it’s blurry but you can still see. It might sting a bit but the pain always subsides…
The question is though:
Is it safe to open your eyes underwater?
Are we doing ourselves a disservice every time we open those peepers in the pool or the ocean?
In this article we’ll answer all these questions and more, focusing on just how safe it is to open your eyes in saltwater or chlorinated water.
Can you open your eyes in the ocean?
Since we’re snorkellers here, we’ll talk about the ocean first. When it comes to salty sea water, opening your eyes really depends on a number of factors, such as the person and where you are swimming. Generally, clean seawater is harmless to the eyes and will have no long-term effect if you go swimming without your snorkel mask. Salt water is not too different from the water that’s present in our eyes.
You may, however, experience some stinging after you open your eyes underwater, which might put you off or make you question whether it’s OK to have them open. The stinging you feel when you do open your eyes in the ocean comes from them adjusting to the saltiness that’s present in the seawater. You’ll find that after a period of stinging, this feeling subsides as your eyes get used to the salt. Some people don’t experience stinging at all!
That said, the key point to take away here is that it’s only okay to swim in clean seawater. If there’s a sewage pipe or rubbish floating by, or you’re near Fukushima or the oil spill on the gulf of Mexico, it’s probably not advised. Consider your surroundings and whether or not you think the sea water will be clean enough, and use your best judgement.
Is it safe to open your eyes in chlorine water?
Ah, the old swimming pool. We’ve all had stinging, bloodshot eyes after swimming in the pool at some point in our lives, and it begs the question, is it unsafe to open our eyes underwater? If you’d like to know whether it’s OK to keep making funny faces at friends underwater, we’ve got some sad news for you – you’ll have to do it with goggles on.
When it comes to chlorinated water, while it does exist to prevent diseases and bacteria from spreading, it is still a chemical that can damage your eyes. What chlorinated water (i.e. pool water) does is strip away the tear film that protects your corneas. This makes your eyes vulnerable to all the dirt and bacteria floating around in the pool that didn’t manage to be eliminated by the chlorine. It’s kind of a funny irony. Chlorine exists to keep your eyes clean, but in doing so makes them more vulnerable to attacks due to chlorine not doing its job properly.
Swimming with your eyes open in chlorinated water can lead to these common eye issues:
- Pink eye/conjunctivitis: This is a common eye infection experienced by swimmers, can be either viral or bacterial, and spreads easily and quickly in water. No good if you’re not wearing goggles in the pool!
- Red & irritated eyes: These are the bloodshot zombie eyes, due to dehydration due to the chlorine and the removal of your tear film. You might also experience temporary blurriness or distorted vision.
- Acanthamoeba keratitis: A fancy word that refers to a severe eye infection due to amoeba being trapped between your cornea and contact lens. The amoeba can even start living there, resulting in ulcers on your cornea and permanent damage to your vision. Gross, but only happens to contact lens wearers – so be sure to wear goggles if you plan on wearing contacts in the pool.
Can pool chlorine cause blindness?
Not to scare you away from swimming pools or anything, but chlorine gas does react with water on your eyes to form hydrochloric acid, and technically that can cause blindness. That said, obviously pool owners will tend to keep the amount of chlorine to a safer combination of hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ions. But still, if this mixes with urine, sweat, or other by-products in the water, it can react to form chloramines which irritate your eyes. And like we mentioned before, chlorinated water also washes away the protective film on your eyes, making you more prone to infections from bacteria swimming in the pool.
What we’re saying here is that your standard, clean, well looked after chlorinated pool shouldn’t cause blindness (considering you’re not wearing contact lenses and prone to point number 3 above). Risk of blindness or eye irritation occurs when chlorine is at unsafe levels, there’s presence of other by-products in the water (like urine or sweat), or there’s bacteria or viruses lingering around. There’s really no way to tell until you do open your eyes, so we’ll say it’s a safe bet that you should wear goggles in chlorinated water.
Is it safe to open your eyes in the pool?
If it’s a saltwater pool, by all means, open your eyes. So long as you know perfectly well that the pool is clean and free of any bacteria or viruses. That’s right, you can never have perfect proof of that fact and for that reason it’ll never be 100% safe to open your eyes in a saltwater pool. Feel free to do it here and there if you believe the pool to be extremely clean, but you might still suffer from some irritation, stinging and redness due to the salt.
When it comes to chlorinated water, as we mentioned earlier, there are a number of eye illnesses which might stem from opening your eyes underwater. While chlorine is designed to keep pools clean, it can sometimes exist in unsafe amounts in the water. It can also tear away the protective film that sits on your cornea, making your eyes more vulnerable to infections from bacteria and other stuff in the pool. When you’re sharing a pool with strangers who are secretly peeing, and you can spot a band aid floating a while away, then safe to say that pool will probably be unsafe to open your eyes in.
What does chlorine do to your body?
If you’re often swimming in chlorinated pools, you might want to be aware of the potential effects and risks associated with swimming in chlorine water. While we discussed the effects of chlorine on eyes earlier in the article, there are other parts of the body that can be affected by chlorinated water, too.
First thing to note is that chlorine is a gas, we can always smell chlorine from a mile away thanks to its strong odour. Inhalation via smelling and breathing is the main way that chlorine is absorbed into the human body, but it can also be absorbed through the skin. Don’t forget that your skin is your largest organ and capable of absorbing anything that touches it.
When a pool has high levels of chlorine, and you’re visiting it on the regular, inhalation can cause wheezing, chest tightness, and other forms of asthma. If you’re swimming at an indoor chlorine pool then there is a higher risk of chlorine exposure and its other associated compounds, like chloroform. Combined with compounds in sweat and urine, chlorine forms even more potent irritants called chloramines (which we mentioned earlier), which cause asthma when inhaled.
Younger children absorb chlorine more readily than adults, and more of the gas will end up in their blood. For that reason, kids who frequently visit indoor pools have a larger chance of developing asthma. Improving ventilation doesn’t always help the situation either as chlorine is still absorbed in the skin. Competitive swimmers who swim in chlorine pools multiple times a day are also more at risk of developing from asthma and respiratory diseases, as their body doesn’t have enough time to purge the chlorine from its system in between swims.
If a pool has high levels of chlorine then it becomes acidic, making it able to wear away the tooth enamel of swimmers who use chlorine pools often. High levels of chlorine have also been linked to an increased risk of diseases like melanoma, bladder/rectal cancer, as well as ‘swimmer’s asthma’.
How do you get chlorine out of your eyes?
If your eyes are feeling red, sore, stinging, or irritated after swimming in chlorinated water, you can still find some relief. There are ways to clean your eyes to ease the irritation post-chlorine swim, releasing any chlorine which might still be lingering inside your eyes.
- Firstly, rinse using cold water to get rid of chloramine traces or any other debris. Hold your face on the sink and gently pour water on one eye at a time, then dry your face,
- If your eyes are feeling especially dry, apply a saline solution which works similarly to tears, helping to relax and moisten your eyes,
- Place a few drops of milk to relieve sore eyes. Milk neutralises the effect of pool chemicals and helps to ease your pain,
- Apply a cold press on your eyes to ease swelling and irritation. When it warms up, soak the cloth in cold water again and repeat,
- Tea also has anti-inflammatory properties and can be applied on irritated or swollen eyes. Soak 2 tea bags in cool water, close your eyes, and place one bac on each eye,
- Another tip is to mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 cup of water until dissolved, soak a cotton ball in the solution, and squeeze it over your eyes until they are wet. Blink a few times to coat your eyes,
- Finally, try placing a few cold slices of cucumber onto your closed eyes. This can help relieve the irritation and moisturise your skin.
Can chlorine make your eyes blurry?
Perhaps you’ve experienced a few bouts of blurry vision after swimming and you’re not sure if it’s you or the chlorine. Well we can say with confidence that it’s more than likely to be the chlorine giving you blurry vision, and here’s why.
Usually, blurry vision post-swim has something to do with the cleanliness of the water that you’re swimming in. You can experience blurry vision from swimming in lakes and rivers, too! While chlorine is designed to keep water clean, it can’t keep 100% of the bacteria and viruses out, and sometimes these can cause irritation and blurry vision.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, chlorine can also react with certain chemicals in urine or sweat to form chloramines, which peel away the protective film of your eyes and help contribute to that foggy vision effect. High levels of chlorine will also have their own contributing effect towards foggy or blurry vision.
There are a number of factors involved, and the best that you can do is try to swim in a clean that has the right levels of chlorine and pool chemicals, no kids pissing in it or floating bandaids, and just to be safe, still don’t open your eyes.