Can You Wear Contacts in the Ocean?

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Can you wear contacts in the ocean for scuba diving and snorkeling? The answer is yes. In fact, many divers have some sort of vision impairment, such as shortsightedness. This means that the farther away something is, the blurrier it is to someone who is shortsighted. To address this, they wear contact lenses under their mask to correct their vision. 

With that said, there are some factors to keep in mind before you decide to wear contact lenses for snorkeling or diving. In this article, we will go over the pros and cons of various underwater eyewear for different watersports and whether it is worth it for you to use them.

Can You Scuba Dive with Contact Lenses?

It’s up to you whether you want to wear contact lenses in the water or not. Keep in mind that the lenses you wear on land are not necessarily the optimal choice for use underwater. There are two types of contact lenses you should know about so that you can make an informed decision. They are: soft lenses and hard lenses. Each has their pros and cons which we will go over now.

Soft Lenses

Soft lenses are the recommended choice for divers. They are designed so that bubbles can pass through them. When ascending from a scuba dive, nitrogen will escape from the tissues in the body, including from the eye. With soft lenses on, the nitrogen bubbles are allowed to permeate, whereas the bubbles can get stuck behind hard lenses and cause problems.

Next, soft lenses are generally larger than hard lenses. This makes it easier for your eyelids to keep the lenses in place, and there is less possibility of it shifting or falling out. When your mask gets flooded, you can half-squint to further secure the lens in place. This will drastically reduce the chances of water washing your contact lenses if water ever enters the mask.

A downside of soft lenses is that they are able to absorb moisture. Whenever the mask gets flooded, the lens will absorb some of the saltwater. Thus, when you return to land, remember to clean the lens with a cleaning solution or throw it out if it’s a daily lens. If the lens is dried out or sticking to your eye, apply some eye drop solution to moisten it and help it slide off.

Be careful which anti-fog solution you use to clean your dive mask. As we just mentioned, soft lenses can absorb moisture. Thus, anti-fog may get absorbed by the lens and irritate your eyes.

Should you experience signs of eye infection after a dive, such as pain or loss of vision, see a doctor as soon as possible. Waterborne bacteria can sometimes get trapped between the eyes and contact lenses when diving which can result in serious problems if left untreated.

Hard Lenses

The traditional contact lens can be categorized as hard lenses. They are generally smaller and soft lenses and are made of glass. Since glass is not permeable, it can trap nitrogen bubbles behind it when a diver ascends which can cause the lens to become out of focus.

Since hard lenses are smaller than soft lenses, they are more likely to get washed out of the eye when water floods the mask. To prevent this from happening, you may be forced to completely shut your eyelids to ensure the lens stays in place. Soft lenses are less likely to have this issue since they are larger.

Since hard lenses are easier to lose and prevent bubbles from escaping, it is not an ideal choice for scuba diving. We recommend familiarizing yourself with soft lenses if you plan on scuba diving, and to leave your hard lenses at home.

Daily or Monthly Lenses?

When picking contact lenses, you have the choice between daily (disposable) lenses and monthly lenses. For watersports, you should purchase daily lenses. As the name suggests, daily lenses are worn for only one day and disposed of, and a new pair are worn the next day.

Since water can easily enter the mask and get onto your eyes and contact lenses, they have a high risk of getting contaminated. Particularly in the case of soft lenses which are absorptive of moisture, they can harbor deadly bacteria that can cause eye infection. Better to throw away lenses that have come into contact with water than to try to disinfect it.

Snorkeling with Contact Lenses

Can you wear contact lenses for snorkeling? Yes! Snorkeling has some similarities to diving, particularly when it comes to the size and shape of the mask. The biggest difference between diving and snorkeling is the depth reached. Snorkelers stay by the surface and may occasionally dive a short distance. Thus, it’s easier for them to prevent mask floods and to return to the boat to deal with their contact lenses if an issue arises.

If you typically wear hard contact lenses, you can use them safely for snorkeling because you do not have to worry about nitrogen bubbles getting trapped. Snorkelers still have to deal with water occasionally flooding the mask, so when it happens just close your eyes to keep the lens in place. Once you’re done snorkeling, use a cleaning solution on the lens and use some eye drops just in case.

Risks of Contact Lenses for Maskless Sports

Contact lenses are not ideal for water sports outside of scuba diving and snorkeling because they do not require the use of a mask to prevent water from reaching the eyes. If you wear contacts for surfing, for example, it is very easy for water to get inside your lenses when a wave hits your face. The danger of this twofold: you can easily lose your lenses this way, and microbes in the seawater can linger on the contacts.

For people who don’t wear contacts, the contamination found in seawater is not an issue because it can get washed away from the eye by tears. Contact lenses can absorb and trap the harmful moisture, leaving it sitting against your eye for long periods of time.

Since the eye is a sensitive part of the body, like the contact lenses, it can also absorb the liquids and gases that come in contact with it. This is the reason why daily soft lenses are the optimal choice since it allows the gases to permeate and can be thrown away as soon you finish the activity.

If your eye starts feeling irritated, stop the activity and exit the water. Take off the contact lenses and apply some eye drops. Wait until the irritation subsides before resuming. If you notice signs of an eye infection such as pink eye, dry eye, or general pain, then see a doctor as soon as possible.

When left untreated, there are some horror stories of people losing their eyesight as a result of microbial infections from contact with seawater. If you want to reduce the risks of this occurring, you may want to wear goggles to keep water out of your eyes and contacts. You may not look as cool surfing with goggles, but at least you’ll have some peace of mind.

Alternatives to Contact Lenses

If you want to avoid the downsides of contact lenses, then here are some additional ways to get by without them.

Stick-On/Bonded Corrective Lenses

You can purchase stick-on lenses for your snorkel and dive masks. How this works is you purchase prescription lenses that come in fixed dioptres and glue them on to the inside of the mask. This is a cheaper alternative to getting custom prescription lenses.

The downside to this is that some people have found that the lenses can get unstuck after awhile. Furthermore, since you have to glue it on yourself, there is a possibility that you affix the lens in a poor location. Since only a portion of the mask will be covered by the lens, some users find it disorienting that the center of their mask lens is exceptionally clear and the edges are blurry.

Custom Prescription Lenses

Prescription snorkel masks are the next step up from bonded corrective lenses. Like prescription glasses, the entire lens will be a prescription lens that is custom made based on your eye measurements and the shape of your mask. Prescription lenses are bespoke; you typically bring your own mask which you already know suits your face shape well. The shape of the existing lens is taken into account and a prescription version is made to replace it.

The downside of prescription masks is its price. It can cost several hundred dollars to get a custom prescription lens that fits on an existing mask frame. Unless you scuba dive or snorkel regularly, this is a costly investment that may not make much financial sense. Sticking with soft lenses or stick-on corrective lenses may be a viable alternative.

A similar and cheaper option is to purchase drop-in lenses for your mask. These lenses come in many common dioptre measurements. You then remove the old lenses and install the new one yourself. Very few mask manufacturers offer drop-in lenses for their masks. A set of drop-in lenses can usually be found for $100 to $200. They are a decent middle-ground between custom prescription lenses and contacts.

Swimming in the Ocean Without Contacts

If you only have a minor eyesight issue then you may be able to just swim, snorkel, and dive without any adjustments. We recommend you try snorkeling without contacts to see if you can still see most things clearly. Do not launch straight into a deep scuba dive without understanding how diving without contacts impacts your vision.

Keep in mind that hand signals are the primary communication method between divers. If your visibility is so poor that you cannot make out the hand signals performed by your buddies, then you definitely need to wear contact lenses or a prescription mask.

Can You Wear Contacts in the Ocean Summary

Yes, you can wear contacts in the ocean as an alternative to glasses for snorkeling. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Wear soft lenses over hard lenses.
  • Wear daily lenses instead of monthlies.
  • Give your dive buddy or instructor a heads up that you’re wearing contacts.
  • After a dive, rinse your eyes with freshwater and use eye drops.
  • Bring a spare set of contacts in case you lose some during a dive.
  • If your mask floods, squint or close your eyelids to keep the lens secure.

Be wary of water entering the mask and reaching your eyes with contacts on. Soft lenses can absorb the saltwater and any microbes in it, leaving it in direct contact with your eyes. Hard lenses can trap nitrogen bubbles and obstruct your vision on the ascent. Hard lenses are also more likely to get washed off when the mask floods.

With that said, contacts aren’t the only option for your eyes. There are other options, such as bonded corrective lenses, drop-in lenses, or custom prescription lenses. These choices are more expensive than wearing contacts, and may not make financial sense if you are a recreational diver or snorkeler.

Whichever method you use to be able to see clearly in the ocean, be aware of their ins and outs so that you can avoid their downsides. For instance, you don’t want to try wearing contacts while on a rocking boat. You don’t want to suffer an eye infection or spend a bunch of money on something you don’t even use often.

Some of the most breathtaking views and experiences can only be found in the oceans. You want to be able to witness these moments with total clarity, and this can be done cheaply by wearing contacts in the ocean.