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Wednesday, March 19, 2014
You’ve spent the summer swimming and diving in the pool, but did all that splashing around in chemically treated water harm your eyes? Optometrist Glenda Secor, chairwoman of the American Optometric Association’s contact lens and cornea section, takes a closer look.
People have been in contact with chlorinated water for generations—in fact, the water flowing from the taps in many communities is chlorinated. Yet there has never been documented evidence that continuous exposure to the diluted chemical can cause permanent harm to the eyes, says Dr. Secor.
“The purpose of pool chlorine is to reduce the bug count to what you could withstand without much harm,” says the Huntington, Calif., optometrist. “But there are so many factors affecting the effectiveness of the chlorine—how recently it was added to the water; the volume in proportion to the amount of water; the amount of contaminant in the water; how often the pool is used; [and] how many people are in it at a time.” So assume there’s a high bug count anyway, she says.
In the Short Term
Exposure to chemically treated water of any kind can temporarily affect the eyes, says Dr. Secor, because when the cornea is submerged in water, its protective tear film is washed away. That leaves eyes vulnerable to bacteria lingering in chlorine-treated water, since some contaminants aren’t killed by the trace levels of chlorine often used in pools.
The tear film “is our natural-defense mechanism,” she says. “Tear proteins help reduce infection rates from bugs still floating in the water, and when that is gone, the cornea is vulnerable to anything.”
She notes swimmers can get eye infections from bacteria in chlorinated water. Bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, is the most common infection that can spread through pools. “Pool chemicals don’t address everything that lives in the water,” she says.
A typical response to being submerged in chlorinated water is red eyes and irritation, as well as blurriness, resulting from dehydration of the cornea, which may temporarily distort vision. These symptoms can go away in a few minutes, as the tear film returns to normal, Dr. Secor says, though the process may take a few hours for older people. “Lubricating drops are helpful to flush away any residual treated water in the eye and will bulk up the tear film faster,” she says.
Focus on Lenses
Contact-lens wearers face other issues, the least of which is losing a lens. A serious eye infection called acanthamoebic keratitis, caused by a certain genus of amoeba, “has been reported with people who swim with contact lenses, which may absorb water or trap it beneath the lens,” says Dr. Secor. Acanthamoebic keratitis can lead to ulcers on the cornea or even blindness. “I always tell my patients to take their contact lenses out and rinse them, and don’t sleep in them, even if they’re allowed to, if they’ve been swimming in any body of water.”
A pool’s chlorine level dissipates over time—day 1 is stronger than day 7—but there is no way to know how strong the chemicals are, shy of carrying a personal test kit. A tried-and-true preventative measure is to wear well-fitting goggles. “Swimming with goggles will keep the tear film from washing away in the first place,” says Dr. Secor, who lives near a beach but doesn’t swim in the ocean. “But if I did, I’d wear goggles then, too,” she says. Salt water also is “pretty full of contaminants.”From Natural health Alliance
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