When you go into a pool with too much chlorine, you can usually feel it—in your eyes. That stinging is your body’s signal that this substance is not good for you. It is true that pool chlorine is bad for your eyes, but you may be wondering what exactly the effects of too much chlorine are.
Chlorine has been shown to effect proteins, and part of your eye’s protective tear film is made of protein. The other parts are oils, water, and mucous. What the chlorine ends up doing is stripping away this protective layer that normally keeps out foreign bacteria and lubricates your eye. This makes your eyes dry and irritated and opens them up to possible infection. You may also experience blurry vision from swelling of the cornea that results from getting chlorine in your eyes.
Fortunately, the effect is temporary. Once you’re out of the chlorinated water for a while, your eyes will produce more precorneal film. They regain both moisture and protection from bacteria. However, this doesn't mean that chlorine exposure has no lasting effects. Long-term effects of chlorine in the eyes are still being studied and have not yet been determined. Keep in mind that even if you don’t swim, many people’s eyes are already regularly exposed to small amounts of chlorine in tap water, and no long-term effects have been connected to this use.
Effects of Chlorine on Kids' Eyes
Kids love to splash around in the water during the summer, and they may be more reckless than adults when it comes to getting large amounts of chlorine in their eyes. One complication that can occur from all that chlorine is chemical conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is the medical term for pinkeye. This inflammation leads to red, itchy eyes and also can cause leaky eye discharge. Other signs of chemical conjunctivitis are a swollen eyelid and blurry vision. Chlorine is not the only cause of chemical pinkeye. Other irritants, like smoke and chemical fumes, can also bring on this condition.
The only thing to do for this condition is flush the eyes with clean water and apply a cold compress. For serious cases, the
optometrist or ophthalmologist may prescribe a topical steroid. The better option is to prevent it from developing in the first place. Simply make sure your child wears well-fitting swim goggles in the pool.
Here are a few tips for making sure the goggles fit properly:
- Determine whether small socket or large socket goggles stay in place better for your child. Small socket goggles fit inside the eye socket area. They fit snugly and efficiently protect against water seeping in, but some people find that they put pressure on the bones around the eyes. Large socket goggles go outside the eye socket area, but they require rubber suction material to stay in place.
- Select a pair with a narrow nosepiece. This will help them stay put on a child’s smaller face.
- Have your kid try on the goggles before you purchase them. If you press the goggle lenses to their eyes without strapping them on, and they stay in place for a couple of seconds, then they fit your child’s face well. If they immediately fall off, the size or shape is not right for your child.
- Above all, pick a pair of goggles that your child feels comfortable in. If they won’t wear them, the goggles do no good!
You can also watch this video on fitting your child with swimming goggles.
Adults and Chlorine in Eyes
The older you get, the longer it takes for your eyes to rebuild their protective tear film. This means the eyes of older adults are less resilient to the effects of chlorine exposure. They will likely experience the discomfort of red, irritated eyes for a longer period following swimming in a chlorinated pool. Like children, the best way to avoid this is to wear protective goggles while swimming.
Contact lens wearers should take extra precaution. Any chlorine or bacteria that gets in your eyes while swimming can become trapped under your lenses if you leave them in. It is best to remove your lenses before entering the pool. However, if you must wear your contacts to swim, take out your contact lenses immediately after swimming and rinse and digitally clean them with a lens solution before putting them back in your eyes. Or you can speak to your optometrist about fitting you into daily disposable contact lenses so you can dispose of the contact lenses immediately after swimming.
If you or your child develops chemical conjunctivitis, you should stop wearing your contacts entirely until the conjunctivitis has cleared.
What to Do If You Get Pool Chlorine in Your Eyes
If you've already went swimming without goggles and are experiencing the after-effects of chlorine in the eyes, you can apply lubricating eye drops to wash away the remaining chlorinated water. This helps your eyes to rebuild their tear layer faster. Chlorine can still enter the eye even if you have worn swim goggles. It is a good idea to use artificial tears to rinse the eyes regardless of whether swim goggles were worn or not.
You may experience a gritty feeling in your eyes and cloudy vision for a couple of hours after getting chlorine in them. This is normal. The temporary vision impairment can be scary, but sight usually returns to its previous state. If cloudy vision continues for more than a couple of hours, or if you have any eye discharge, it’s time to see an eye doctor. They can determine whether you have a more serious complication.
Wearing goggles is always the number one way to protect your eyes, but it’s not the only way to reduce the chances of irritation and chemical conjunctivitis. You can keep your home pool safe by regularly checking its pH level. It should remain between 7.2 and 7.8, slightly acidic. This level makes the pool both safe for eyes and adequate for disinfecting the water.
Just remember that keeping the pH level balanced does not prevent you from getting an infection from debris, bacteria, and personal hygiene products (e.g. sunscreen and deodorant) that mix with pool water. With or without chlorine, opening your eyes in a pool or natural body of water can introduce foreign irritants. Persistent redness, swelling, or blurred vision could be sign of an infection that needs to be treated by an eye care professional.