Avoid the splash: swimming with uveitis

Sometimes no news is good news. No inflammation, no side effects, no splashy headlines. That’s how it’s been for me this year, finally. Moving into February of 2022, I was able to extend my eye appointments to 6 weeks, 10 weeks, and then 14 weeks apart. The neovascularization quieted down after over a year of regular Avastin injections. Since I had been going in weekly or biweekly for a few months in the winter, dealing with the bleb leak (see Diffusing the Bomb) it was odd(ly refreshing) not to be driving to Seattle all the time. 

One of the few times during the summer that I caught myself thinking about my eyes was at the swimming pool. [Besides the two weeks when I was pretty sick with COVID (even with four vaccinations) and was a little afraid I was going to have to go off my medication (it didn’t happen)].

I swam a decent amount as a kid, and now my kids are enjoying lessons. I have two decent pairs of goggles that fit nicely, but I still hate to wear them. Maybe it’s because my vision isn’t great with them on. Maybe it’s because I’m not swimming laps, I’m up and down and bobbing around, getting splashed by kids, somehow fogging the goggles up.

I’d been avoiding researching just how bad pool water is for folks with eye disease because I didn’t really want to know. I finally did some “googling,” and what I read will give me more motivation to keep my goggles on…

Everyone knows not to go swimming after ocular surgery. I know not to go in after an injection and I didn’t go near the pool during my bleb leak.

In swimming pools, chlorine is used to reduce water-borne bacteria and viruses to prevent pathogens and diseases from spreading. Chlorine is a fairly decent sanitizer, but it doesn’t kill everything. Efficacy is also dependent on how much chlorine is added and how often.

Another thing that chlorine is good at is washing away your tear film. Tear film is made up of three layers and protects your eyes, among other things. Read Facts About Tears.

“When your eyes are submerged in chlorinated pool water, the tear film that usually acts as a defensive shield for your cornea is washed away. This means that your eyes are no longer protected from dirt or bacteria that are not entirely eliminated by the treated pool water. So, swimmers can be prone to eye infections“ (Dr. David WIlliams, OD, https://2020eyecareoh.com/does-chlorine-hurt-your-eyes/)

Conditions such as conjunctivitis are not fun in and of themselves but can cause serious complications for someone with uveitis. Anterior uveitis can be exacerbated by irritation from chlorine or even brought on by parasites, which would be more common in lakes or other water bodies (Water Related Ocular Diseases, Saudi J Ophthalmol., 2018)

Before swearing off swimming altogether, there are things you can do to reduce the impacts of chlorine and avoid infection.

Wear Goggles: Just when you thought the worst part of swimming was swimsuit shopping… finding the right pair of goggles can take a while, but they are the most impactful in terms of protecting your eyes. Goggles can cause a slight increase in interocular pressure, so if you’re in the danger zone (i.e. taking drops or medication to reduce pressure), you probably want to discuss this one with your doctor. 

Read more about how goggles should fit here: Are Swimming Goggles Bad for your Eyes?

Rinse off after swimming: Make sure that if you don’t have time to shower thoroughly, you at least use clean water to rinse off your eyes and face.

Use Drops: Preservative-free drops are very helpful when combating dry eye and rinsing out anything that is causing irritation to the eye. Additionally, you could even talk to your doctor about using a drop like Ofloxacin (prescription antibacterial) sparingly if you swim a lot and are worried. 

Jump in!

Other Sources: What You Should Know About Swimming and Your Eyes

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