Those of us who wear glasses and like to exercise usually solve our problems by swapping our glasses with contact lenses. That way, when you inevitably get hit in the face with a ball or somebody’s elbow, you don’t have to worry about breaking your expensive lenses and frames, or getting glass shards in your eye.
That said, contacts are not so effective underwater. Water can easily flush the lenses out of your eyes. Even with goggles on, if some water enters and gets into your eye, the bacteria in the water can linger on your contacts which can lead to red eye or worse. If your preferred physical activity takes place in the water, know that contacts are not as good of an idea underwater as they are on land.
So what are glasses-wearing swimmers supposed to do? How do you swim (or do any other water sports) with glasses? The reality is that you probably need custom prescription lenses, or you need to be very careful with wearing contacts under your goggles. If you’re willing to risk it, you can actually just wear your glasses with you underwater with a few modifications.
In this article, we will go over the various ways you can wear some kind of corrective lenses underwater so that you can still see while you’re swimming or playing any water sports.
Can I just wear my goggles/dive mask over my glasses?
The first thought many people have is, “why can’t I just wear my eye protection over my glasses?” It seems pretty logical, but the reality is that the glasses frames get in the way.
It should be pretty self-explanatory as to why there is simply no room for swim goggles to accommodate an entire pair of glasses underneath.
Even with something more spacious like a dive mask, the glasses frame, specifically the temples, get in the way of a watertight seal on your face. Some dive mask manufacturers make glasses frames that have short/no temples so that you can simply insert the appropriate lens, allowing you to effectively wear glasses under a dive mask. Check out the video below for an idea of what that looks like:
If you’re willing to do some DIY as well as willing to sacrifice a pair of glasses frames, you can remove the temples of the frame yourself and voila, you have a pair of glasses that can be worn under a dive mask.
Swimming with your glasses
Believe it or not, you can actually wear your glasses into pool water (but not saltwater), with many caveats. There are many concerns with regards to this option, but there are also many workarounds.
First, the risk of your glasses simply falling off is high. It is not practical to swim with glasses on unless they are secured to your face. With a strap kit, you can attach a strap around the temples of the glasses and wrap it behind your head for extra support.
Second, your glasses lenses can potentially fog up. By applying some baby shampoo to your lenses, this will reduce the chances of your lenses fogging up and clouding your vision.
Third, as with wearing glasses for any other sport, there is a risk that something will hit your face and break your glasses. Hopefully you are just swimming laps and not playing any team sport, otherwise this is too big of a risk to even suggest wearing glasses.
Fourth, even if you manage to secure the glasses on your face and are reasonably certain that there will not be any errant ball or hand coming to hit your face, there is still the issue of your eyes being exposed to the chlorinated water. You absolutely should not be swimming without eye protection in the ocean; who knows what kinds of debris, pollution, and bacteria is floating in there.
Even though the water will be sanitary, the chlorine can still cause your eyes to sting and turn red. You probably couldn’t keep your eyes open underwater for long regardless. For that, we have no solution other than to resort to the other methods of wearing corrective lenses underwater.
Wear contact lenses under swimming goggles
Another viable but flawed solution is to wear contact lenses under your swimming goggles. Contacts work extremely well on land but they are not so good underwater.
The first and most obvious problem is that water can easily wash your contacts out. This can be minimized if you are careful not to take off your goggles and you have the self-control to never rub your eyes.
The second problem is an extension of the first problem, which is that if there are any bacteria in the water, they can potentially contaminate your contacts and give you an eye infection. This is less of an issue in pool water if we’re assuming that the chlorine is killing all the bacteria, but it’s possible that some bacteria has survived.
Essentially, you don’t want any water to even touch your contact lenses. Just to be on the safe side, you should immediately dispose of any contacts once you’re done swimming because you cannot be sure if the contacts are clean. Not even rinsing it in contact solution is enough to clean it if contaminated water has touched it; you can only toss them out and wear fresh contacts next time.
Prescription swimming goggles
The best option, albeit also the most expensive, is to wear prescription swimming goggles. There are two types. The most expensive type is where the prescription lens manufacturer takes your prescription and creates bespoke lenses that match that prescription and fits into your mask frame.
The second option is where you buy lenses yourself and glue them on the inside of your swimming goggles or dive mask. These are known as bonded corrective lenses, and they are permanently affixed onto your goggles/mask.
The third option is called snap-in lens. Essentially, you can pop out the current plastic lens from your goggles and swap them with a snap-in prescription lens. The problem is that few goggles or mask manufacturers offer this feature. Another issue is that when trying to pop out a lens, you can end up damaging the lens or the frame.
With prescription lenses, you do not need to wear glasses underwater; your goggles/dive mask becomes your glasses. That way, you don’t have to worry about your glasses falling off when you’re swimming.
Will water damage my glasses?
If you plan on wearing your glasses in the pool, then they will be exposed to chlorine. Chlorine is a common chemical used to treat pools to ensure they are safe to swim in.
Though this chemical is notorious for damaging swimwear, hair, hair dyes, and regular clothing, thankfully glasses can survive relatively unscathed as long as you clean your glasses immediately after exiting the pool.
Another commonly used chemical is bromine, which is an alternative to chlorine and very similar in what it can do. Since they share similar properties, you can expect it to have the same effect on glasses as chlorine.
Failing to clean or dry your glasses can result in a cloudy white residue forming on the lenses. The water can also cause the screws to rust and become brittle. Wiping your glasses down with warm water and a microfiber cloth ensures it will remain dry and clean.
Though chlorinated pool water is relatively safe to expose glasses to, the same cannot be said of salt water. The high concentration of salt in saltwater is more damaging to metal than rust. The combination of oxygen, salt, and moisture can easily corrode metal five times faster than rust. Any glasses with metal frames are in extreme danger of being damaged beyond repair if exposed to saltwater.
There is also a risk of microscopic debris, such as particulates, in the saltwater that can get on your glasses. When you try to wipe them off, it can scratch the frame and lenses as well as any protective coatings on the glasses. Be mindful of them and rinse thoroughly under running water to get rid of them before drying with a microfiber cloth.
At the end of the day, I think the most straightforward, viable, and affordable options are to simply wear daily disposable contacts under your swimming goggles or to sacrifice an old pair of glasses by removing the temples and wearing them under a dive mask.
Prescription swimming goggles are the “best” option in terms of functionality, but they are also the most expensive option. That’s not even accounting for the fact that your eyesight might change in the future, or that you might end up losing it when you’re packing it for traveling, which can be stressful to think about.
If you ever needed to replace a prescription swimming goggle/dive mask more than once, the amount of money you’d have spent might be approaching the thousands. Seriously, it might even be more worth it if you just saved up the money to get laser eye surgery instead of buying two or more pairs of prescription goggles.
Spending this much money just for a single hobby when you can get a life changing surgery that benefits your life in other areas seems silly to me. For those who are on a tight budget, contact lenses work just fine.