Can I Scuba Dive With Contact Lenses?
There’s no better way to appreciate all the colourful creatures under the sea than by going on a scuba diving excursion. But if you’re a contact lens wearer, is it wise to keep your lenses on while underwater?
Although swimming with contact lenses is never recommended, it’s possible to safely wear soft contacts underneath scuba diving goggles. If you are going to wear your contact lenses while scuba diving, however, you need to be extra vigilant about the amount of water that splashes in your eyes. To avoid the risk of eye infection and irritation, most Optometrists recommend using devices like prescription-grade goggles rather than wearing contact lenses.
For more details on wearing contacts while scuba diving, be sure to check out the information in this blog post. The tips listed below will ensure you have a sensational scuba experience, even with your contacts on.
Why You Shouldn’t Swim With Contacts On
Before we take a closer look at wearing contacts while scuba diving, it’s important to reiterate you should never wear your lenses when swimming. Indeed, you should never expose contact lenses to water, period.
There are many potentially blinding waterborne pathogens in both pool and freshwater that can easily attach themselves to contact lenses. Contact lenses also tend to absorb harsh chemicals like chlorine that can seriously irritate your eyes.
Of course, scuba diving is a bit different because the goggles provide such a great barrier between your eyes and the surrounding water. Still, the risk of contamination is there, so it’s best to work with a scuba diving instructor who could look out for your safety.
Learn Proper Mask Flooding Procedures
While professional scuba diving masks provide a fair amount of eye protection, there’s still a risk your contacts will be exposed to water. Indeed, when the seals of your goggles crack even slightly, water will come into your goggles and expose your lenses to harmful microorganisms.
When your goggles are partially flooded, it’s important to remove that water as quickly as possible. An easy way to get rid of this unwanted water is to press against the top part of your goggles, tilt your head back, and blow air bubbles out of your nose. This simple technique will force all of the water inside your goggles out. If you are learning to dive, you will need to 'clear your mask' (over and over again!), until you have mastered that technique.
Obviously, it’s best to keep your eyes closed when getting rid of mask flooding to minimise the risk of water exposure. If you do this correctly, with proper training and practice, it is perfectly possible to clear your mask without any water coming into contact with your contact lenses - and without losing your lenses!
If possible, work with a professional diving instructor before going on your scuba diving trip. Tell your diving instructor that you wear contact lenses and ask for his advice while learning this technique - he will probably tell you to clear your mask with your eyes shut. During your training sessions, ask your teacher how to properly get rid of trapped water and practice a few times without your contact lenses in. Only after you’ve mastered the art of mask flooding should you move on to your actual scuba session.
What Are The Best Contact Lenses For Scuba Diving?
In general, people who wear soft contacts have a more pleasant experience than those who wear rigid gas-permeable lenses (RGP's.
The reason RGP's lenses are more uncomfortable mainly has to do with the pressure build-up as you go further under the water. RGP's contacts also tend to trap nitrogen while you’re diving, which has the negative effect of clouding your vision. On top of all these issues, hard contact lenses are more prone to falling out of a person’s eyes compared with soft lenses.
Daily disposable contact lenses are the best choice when scuba diving, as they will not be affected by the pressure build-up, it is far easier to take a spare pair of daily lenses with you on any scuba trip than remembering cases, solutions etc plus if water does leak into your mask you can easily dispose of the contact lens at minimal cost, reducing the chance of infection.
If you wear glasses it's not a bad idea to have a contact lens fitting as diving with glasses is not recommended, getting a good seal with your mask in glasses is almost impossible.
There is the option of wearing a prescription dive mask but these can be expensive and you still need to have your contact lenses or glasses with you before and after the dive.
Scuba diving is a fun activity and it is a pity to miss out on all the action because you can't see!
What Happens If I Lose My Diving Mask?
Another risk is getting your mask 'kicked off' or displaced during a dive. If you look around to find your mask, you can lose your lenses! Try to find your mask with one eye, keeping the other eye closed, at least then you only stand a chance of losing one lens and can complete the dive - better still get your buddy to find it!
Can I Snorkel In Contact Lenses?
Snorkelling with contact lenses is not recommended, your Optometrist will have advised against swimming in contact lenses and although with snorkelling your mask acts as a barrier there is still the risk of getting water leaking in and getting trapped under your contact lenses.
A good fitting mask will offer a barrier against the water reaching your eyes and contact lenses so snorkelling should be fairly safe, however if you do get water in your mask and eyes, we recommend disposing of your lenses and replace with a fresh pair, this is why daily disposable lenses are great for diving, snorkelling and swimming. If you wear monthly disposable contact lenses it would be advisable to dispose of the lens or at least remove the lens clean and soak it before replacing.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 24 Apr 2015, Last modified: 3 Jan 2023