Snorkeling is a fun and affordable way to see the beautiful coral reef and marine life with the help of a snorkeling or diving mask. Unfortunately, wearing a mask poses a slight problem for those with less than 20/20 vision; these masks are not designed to be worn over prescription glasses. It’s one or the other, and you need a mask in order to snorkel. So how can glasses wearers take part in snorkeling? The answer is by snorkeling with contact lenses.
Just because you are near or farsighted doesn’t mean you have to deal with blurry vision underwater! There are even other solutions instead of contact lenses such as getting a prescription snorkel mask, but this option is expensive. Snorkeling is meant to be an inexpensive hobby, so we are happy to report that contact lenses are an affordable and viable alternate. With that said, there are a few considerations to think about to ensure that you’re keeping your eyes in perfect condition.
Is It Safe to Snorkel with Contact Lenses?
Yes, you can wear contacts while snorkeling and it is reasonably safe as long as you are following the right tips. These tips are very straightforward, and at times it may even feel like it’s common sense. However, maybe you’ll pick up a thing or two, so we’ll go over it for completeness sake.
First, try your best to keep water out of your eyes with contacts on. The water can not only wash out the contacts (causing you to lose them), but the microbes and viruses in it can potentially linger on the contacts in your eyes. You’ll want to wear the mask and ensure it has a watertight seal before you head into the water.
Normally water in the eyes isn’t an issue because the body will naturally create tears to rinse the eyes. The tears are enough to rinse off any microbes from the eyes. With contacts on, the microbes can linger on the lens and stay in your eyes for a lot longer. This has the potential of giving you a serious eye infection.
Second, if water does happen to enter the mask and get in your eye, you should either squint or close your eyes completely to keep the contact lenses from getting washed out. To be safe, just completely close your eyes and drain the water before it ever reaches them. If you want, you can return to the shore immediately and rinse the contacts with a cleaning solution to disinfect it. You can also use some eye drops to rinse your eyes as well.
Third, you should wear daily contact lenses that you can dispose of when you’re done snorkeling. Wear a new one before you head into the water, and toss it out after. This is the safest way to ensure that the contact lenses are clean each time. It also limits your eyes’ exposure to microbes and viruses in the water.
Fourth, always bring a spare set of contacts. As we mentioned, you never know when you might lose them. Your snorkeling experience will be ruined if you lose your contacts and everything is blurry. If a set of contacts happens to be irritating you, then just swap them out for a different set. Also, bring some eye drops to soothe your eyes and to moisten up dried out contacts.
Fifth, many people wear contacts in the water all the time already. There are no official records for how many do so while snorkeling, but approximately half of contact wearers report that they wear contacts while swimming. So if you’re wondering if wearing contacts is some taboo thing that’s frowned upon, many people already do it all the time. It’s not without risk, however.
Lastly, consult your eye care professional about wearing contacts while snorkeling and get the latest guidelines and recommendations on what to do. We are not eye care professionals and we are providing this information based on our own experiences plus some additional research..
How to Prepare for Snorkeling with Contact Lenses
Contact lenses can be kind of awkward to handle if you’re not used to them. They also require a lot of maintenance to remain sterile and safe. Here are some guidelines for how to get your contacts ready before snorkeling.
To ensure that your contacts are clean, you must first make sure your hands are clean. They’ll be what touches the contacts before it reaches your eye, so the possibility of contamination starts there. We should already be masters of sanitizing and washing our hands thanks to COVID-19, so this step should not be an issue. Dirty hands and contacts can lead to eye infections.
Washing your hands will also get rid of any sand or debris that may be lingering on your fingers. Even if it looks like your hand is clean, there may be tiny particulates that you can’t see but you’ll definitely feel if they touch your eye.
Additionally, if you are diving from a boat, you should wear your contacts on the shore. A rocking boat makes it difficult for you to delicately put the lenses on your eyes. You also won’t have as much access to freshwater if you want to rinse something.
Can You Snorkel with Hard Contact Lenses?
Yes, you can snorkel with hard contact lenses. The issue with hard lenses is that they are quite small. Therefore, it’s a lot easier for them to fall out of your eye if water gets in the mask. If you plan on doing any diving, however, then it’s recommended to wear soft, gas-permeable lenses. Hard lenses will trap gases that form underneath it causing your vision to get blurry.
Can You Wear Glasses while Snorkeling?
Snorkeling and diving masks are not designed to be worn with glasses. The issue is that these masks need to seal tightly against your face and the earpieces of your glasses get in the way of that. Even just a strand of hair can break the seal and cause a water leak. In order to wear glasses while snorkeling, you would need a custom pair of glasses that have much shorter earpieces so that they do not interfere with the mask skirt.
You may be able to make your own DIY snorkeling glasses from an old pair that you don’t mind modifying. However an easier solution is to wear contact lenses, get bonded corrective lenses, or get a prescription snorkel mask.
Will Saltwater Irritate My Eyes with Contact Lenses On?
This varies from person to person. Some people have never had their eyes get irritated by saltwater before. Others have. You may be more sensitive or you might not be.
However, whether it stings your eyes or not is a moot point. You should try your best not to let water touch your contacts anyways. You should adjust your mask so that it’s tightly secured and no water can seep in. It should be relatively easy to do so since you’ll only be snorkeling.
Wear your mask before you enter the water. Try to keep your mask on at all times and only take it off once you’re back at the shore/boat. If water enters your mask, close your eyes before any contact is made between your contacts and the water, and clear the mask as quickly as possible before opening them again.
Risks of Wearing Contact Lenses in the Ocean
As we have mentioned above, the risk of wearing contact lenses in the ocean are that the microbes and viruses in water can get absorbed into the lens, which can then transfer to your eye and cause an infection.
Pretty much all water, whether it’s ocean water or pool water, contains microbes and bacteria. Normally they don’t cause our eyes much trouble because of our eyes’ natural flushing system, the tear ducts. Whenever there is any irritation, our tears will flush out most things that can cause problems.
The problem with contact lenses is that the bacteria and microbes in water get absorbed by it, and our tears can no longer rinse it off. If you have a particularly long snorkeling session, then that gives the bacteria time to transmit into your eyes, which are also very absorbent.
One microbe in particular, Acanthamoeba, can cause some serious eye damage. It can lead to an eye infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis, which is painful and can lead to permanent vision loss. You may even need a corneal transplant in order to fix an eye damaged by this infection, so it’s something you should take seriously.
This is the reason it is recommended that you do not get water in your eyes when wearing contacts. If you do, then you should head back and disinfect your contacts in a cleaning solution or wear a fresh set that hasn’t been contaminated by water. Serious problems rarely occur, however it’s smarter to not put yourself at risk like that.
Can I Snorkel with Contact Lenses?
So, is it safe to snorkel with contact lenses? Our answer is yes, with some caveats. For those who do not have 20/20 vision, much of the beauty of snorkeling is robbed since it is normally not possible to wear glasses with snorkeling masks. You do not want to spend thousands on a vacation only to get treated to blurry views. The easiest and most affordable way to salvage your vacation is to simply wear contact lenses.
If you decide to wear contacts, you must follow all of the safety tips we have provided to ensure that your eyes stay healthy and that you do not lose your contacts in the water. For instance, you should always wash your hands before applying the contacts, and to disinfect your contacts if it has come into contact with water.
Also, you should do everything in your power to avoid getting water into your eyes. Snorkeling with contacts is not without risks, and in very rare cases you may get an eye infection. If you feel your eyes are irritated, red, or in pain, then seek medical care immediately. We feel that with some common sense, you can avoid all of the problems outlined in the Risks section. However, we leave that decision up to you whether you want to snorkel with contact lenses or not.