Can You Wear Contacts to the Beach? A Guide to Contact Lenses for Summer

closeup-of-young-woman-smiling-at-the-beach

Summer is here, and it’s time to hit the beach! But before you dive into the waves, there’s an important question to consider if you’re a contact lens wearer: Can you wear contacts to the beach? 

While contacts offer freedom from glasses, mixing sun, sand, and surf with your lenses requires some know-how to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll explore the effects of UV rays on your eyes, discuss the risks of swimming with contacts, and provide essential summer eye care tips for contact lens wearers. We’ll also look into the best types of contacts for sunny environments and share best practices for beach days and poolside fun. 

Let’s dive in!

UV Rays and Your Eyes

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Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can have a profound impact on eye health, making protection crucial, especially in the sunny months. Here’s what you need to know about UV rays and your eyes in summer:

Long-Term Effects of UV Exposure on the Eyes

UV rays are not just a threat to your skin. They can also damage the eye’s delicate structures.

For instance, prolonged exposure to UV radiation can lead to cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens that can blur vision. Another potential issue is photokeratitis, which is essentially a sunburn of the eye’s surface. Photokeratitis is painful and can cause temporary vision loss.

Over time, UV exposure can also contribute to the development of macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss in older adults. Protecting your eyes from UV rays is essential to prevent these conditions.

How to Protect Your Eyes From UV Damage

Wearing sunglasses is one of the simplest and most effective ways to shield your eyes from UV rays. Look for sunglasses that block 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation. 

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also reduce the amount of UV radiation that reaches the eyes by up to 50%. 

For contact lens wearers, use lenses with built-in UV protection. However, note that UV-blocking contacts do not substitute for sunglasses because they do not cover the entire eye area.

How to Keep Sweat Out of Eyes

While UV rays pose a direct threat to eye health, sweat can indirectly exacerbate issues, especially when combined with sunscreen. Sweat dripping into the eyes can cause irritation and potentially wash sunscreen into them, which might increase sensitivity to light and enhance the harmful effects of UV rays.

To prevent this, wear a headband or a cap with a sweatband. You should also choose water-resistant sunscreens that are less likely to run and irritate your eyes. Also, opt for eye-friendly face moisturizers and makeup that are labeled water-resistant to further reduce the risk of eye irritation while you’re out in the sun.

Swimming in Contact Lenses: Do or Don’t?

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Swimming with contact lenses might seem convenient, but it poses several risks. Here’s what you need to know before jumping into the water with your contacts:

Why Contacts & Water Don’t Mix

Water and contact lenses are not a safe combination. Pools, lakes, and oceans contain bacteria and other microorganisms that can adhere to your lenses, potentially leading to infections or other eye irritations. 

Water can also cause soft contact lenses to tighten on the eye, causing discomfort and possibly damaging the cornea. Therefore, it’s best to avoid any contact between water and lenses to maintain good eye health.

What to Do if You Accidentally Wear Contacts in the Pool

If you accidentally swim with your contacts, take immediate action to minimize eye discomfort or infection.

  1. Remove your lenses as soon as you’re out of the water.
  2. Clean your lenses thoroughly with lens solution, or ideally, dispose of them and use a new pair. 
  3. Rinse your eyes with clean water or a saline solution to remove any potential irritants. If you experience redness, irritation, or blurred vision afterwards, consult your eye care professional (ECP) promptly.

Should I Wear Prescription Swim Goggles?

For those who need vision correction while swimming, prescription swim goggles are a safe and effective alternative to contact lenses. These goggles are tailor-made to match your prescription and are sealed to prevent water from entering, thus protecting your eyes from contaminants in the water.

How to Order Prescription Swim Goggles

Using prescription swim goggles ensures that you see clearly underwater without risking the health of your eyes. If you’re interested in prescription swim goggles, here’s how you can order them:

  1. Obtain your current prescription from your optometrist.
  2. Choose a reputable provider that specializes in prescription goggles. Many optical stores and online retailers offer a variety of styles and fits.
  3. Select the goggles that best fit your needs and activities. Make sure to provide your prescription details when ordering.

How Hot Weather Affects Contact Lenses

High temperatures and dry air in summer can affect both the comfort and performance of your contact lenses. Understanding these impacts is key to maintaining optimal eye health during hot weather.

Hot and dry conditions can cause faster evaporation of the tear film that keeps your eyes lubricated and comfortable. This increased dryness can lead to discomfort, blurred vision, and even a gritty sensation in the eyes as the lenses become less hydrated. High temperatures can also increase the deposit of proteins and lipids on the lenses from your tear fluid, which can irritate your eyes and reduce lens clarity.

To prevent this, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and using rewetting drops or artificial tears specifically designed for contact lens wearers. Also, consider wearing sunglasses as these help maintain moisture by reducing the rate of evaporation from your eyes.

Can Contacts Melt in the Sun?

A common myth among contact lens wearers is the fear that lenses might melt under the sun. Rest assured, contact lenses cannot melt while worn on the eye because they are designed to withstand typical environmental conditions, including the direct exposure to sunlight. The materials used in contacts, such as hydrogel or silicone hydrogel, have melting points much higher than any temperature your eye could be exposed to in natural environments.

However, leaving contact lenses in direct sunlight, such as on a dashboard of a car or near a window, is a different story. High temperatures can warp or shrink contact lenses, making them uncomfortable or even unsafe to wear. As such, always store your lenses in a cool, dry place. Avoid leaving them in environments where high temperatures are common, such as in a car during a sunny day.

Summer Eye Care Tips for Contact Lens Wearers

Summer brings unique challenges for contact lens wearers. But you can keep your eyes healthy and comfortable by following these essential summer eye care tips:

  1. Stay Hydrated – Keeping hydrated is crucial not just for your body but also for your eyes. Adequate fluid intake helps maintain the natural moisture levels in your eyes, reducing dryness and irritation that can be exacerbated by hot weather.
  2. Use Quality Sunglasses – Wear sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays. Sunglasses also help prevent wind and debris from irritating your eyes, which is especially important for contact lens wearers.
  3. Keep Your Contact Lenses Clean – Heat can increase the buildup of proteins and other deposits on your lenses. Stick to a rigorous cleaning routine using proper solutions, and consider using daily disposable lenses to avoid accumulation of deposits.
  4. Opt for Water-Resistant Sunscreen and Makeup – When applying sunscreen and makeup, choose products that are water-resistant and non-greasy to prevent them from running into your eyes, which can cause irritation or discomfort.
  5. Carry Lubricating Drops – Have a bottle of lubricating eye drops that are compatible with your contact lenses. They can provide quick relief from dryness and help flush out any particles that might irritate your eyes.
  6. Avoid Direct Airflow – Direct air from air conditioners or fans can dry out your eyes. Try to minimize exposure to direct airflow, particularly when staying in air-conditioned rooms for prolonged periods
  7. Take Breaks from Lenses – Give your eyes a break by occasionally wearing glasses instead of contacts, especially on hot days. This can help prevent overwear symptoms like eye strain and irritation.
  8. Follow the “No Water Rule” – Remember: no swimming or showering while wearing contact lenses. Water can harbor bacteria and other pathogens that can lead to irritation and infection.
  9. Monitor for Irritation – Pay close attention to how your eyes feel. At the first sign of irritation or discomfort, remove your contact lenses and give your eyes a break. If symptoms persist, consult your ECP.

What Contact Lenses Can You Wear in the Sun?

Contact lenses with UV protection are designed to help shield your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. These lenses are classified into two types based on the level of UV protection they offer: Class I and Class II.

  • FDA Class I Blocker – Class I lenses provide the highest level of UV protection available in contact lenses. They are recommended for high exposure environments such as mountains or beaches. Class I lenses block more than 90% of UVA and 99% of UVB rays.
  • FDA Class II Blocker – Class II lenses are recommended for general purposes. They are suitable for general daily wear but might not be sufficient for prolonged outdoor activities in bright sunlight. These lenses block more than 70% of UVA and 95% of UVB.

Here are some notable contact lens brands that provide UV protection:

Class ITypeClass IIType
1-DAY ACUVUE® TruEye®Daily1-DAY ACUVUE® MOISTDaily
ACUVUE® OASYS 1-DAYDailyACUVUE® 2Bi-weekly
ACUVUE® OASYS with HYDRACLEAR® PLUS TechnologyBi-weeklyBausch + Lomb INFUSE®Daily
ACUVUE® VITA®MonthlyBiotrue® ONEdayDaily
Avaira Vitality™Bi-weeklyclariti® 1 dayDaily

Best Practices at the Beach (or Pool)

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If you’re planning a day at the beach or pool, keeping your eyes healthy and comfortable requires some additional precautions. Follow these practices to ensure your beach or pool day is enjoyable without compromising your eye health:

  1. Wear Protective Eyewear – Invest in a good pair of UV-protective sunglasses to wear over your contact lenses. For swimming, consider switching to prescription swim goggles.
  2. Keep Backup Glasses Handy – Always bring a pair of up-to-date prescription glasses. This gives you an option to switch out of contacts if your eyes become irritated by sand, sunscreen, or water splashes.
  3. Use a Tight-Sealing Beach Bag – Protect your lens case and solution from sand and heat by storing them in a tightly sealed bag. Extreme temperatures and particles can compromise the safety of your lens care products.
  4. Avoid Touching Your Eyes – The beach and pool are full of potential irritants. Minimize the risk of infection by keeping your hands clean and avoiding touching your eyes or adjusting your contacts without sanitizing your hands first.
  5. Apply Sunscreen Carefully – When applying sunscreen, do so before inserting your contacts. Consider using sunscreen lotions or creams instead of sprays to avoid aerosol particles soiling your lenses.
  6. Hydrate and Refresh – The sun and wind can dry out your contacts quickly. Drink plenty of water and use preservative-free lubricating drops to keep your eyes moist and refreshed throughout the day.
  7. Plan for Quick Lens Removal – If an eye irritation occurs, it’s vital to be able to remove your contacts quickly and safely. Carry a small, portable contact lens kit equipped with a mirror, lens case, and solution.

When to Contact Your Eye Doctor

Here’s when you should consider reaching out to your eye care professional:

  • If you experience persistent irritation or discomfort – These could be signs of an infection or an adverse reaction to the lenses.
  • If your eyes were exposed to water – Water can introduce harmful microorganisms that could lead to infections like Acanthamoeba keratitis.
  • If you experience any sudden changes in vision – These changes can indicate underlying issues that need professional assessment.
  • If you sustain any eye injury – Minor injuries can escalate quickly, especially if contaminants are involved.
  • If you experience symptoms of UV Damage – Excessive tearing, a gritty feeling in the eyes, and unusual light sensitivity could be signs of UV damage.
  • If your contact lenses are damaged – Using damaged lenses can harm the surface of your eyes or lead to infections.

Wrapping Up

Enjoying the summer safely while wearing contact lenses requires preparation and vigilance. Remember: protecting your eyes from UV rays, avoiding contact with water while wearing lenses, and maintaining proper lens hygiene are key to a trouble-free season. Always stay hydrated, use UV-protective sunglasses, and keep your eye care essentials handy. Most importantly, if you encounter any persistent eye discomfort, changes in vision, or other concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your ECP immediately. Taking these steps will ensure your eyes remain healthy and your vision clear so you can fully enjoy your summer adventures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Contact Lenses for Summer

1. Do contact lenses have UV protection?

Yes, some contact lenses offer UV protection. However, UV-blocking contact lenses only cover the cornea, not the entire eye. While they provide some level of defense against harmful UV rays, they are not a substitute for UV-blocking sunglasses.

2. Can you wear sunglasses with contacts?

Absolutely, you can and should wear sunglasses with contact lenses, especially those that offer UV protection. Sunglasses help protect the parts of your eyes and eyelids that are not covered by contacts.

3. Do contacts protect your eyes?

Yes, but only if they have built-in UV blockers. However, even UV-blocking contact lenses do not prevent all forms of UV damage unless worn with additional protective eyewear, like UV-blocking sunglasses.

4. Should I wear contacts to the beach?

Wearing contacts to the beach is not recommended, especially if you plan to swim. Sand and water can harm the lenses and irritate your eyes. Prescription swim goggles are a safer alternative for vision correction while swimming.

5. Can you leave contacts in a hot car?

No, it is not advisable to leave contact lenses in a hot car. Extreme temperatures can warp and even damage the lenses, making them uncomfortable to wear and potentially unsafe for your eyes.

6. Can you wear contacts underwater?

No, wearing contact lenses underwater without protection is risky as it exposes your eyes to potentially harmful bacteria and microorganisms. If you must swim, use prescription swim goggles to protect your eyes and maintain clear vision while in the water.