There’s no doubt that making use of the right swimming gear can either make or break your workout. Most people consider swimming goggles to be an essential piece of gear for water-based workouts because of how they’re supposed to protect your eyes from the water. But can swimming goggles actually end up damaging your eyes instead?
Swimming goggles are more protective than damaging. They do increase the amount of pressure on your eyes slightly, but this intraocular pressure isn’t likely to cause injury. The extra eye protection against chlorine and pool pathogens far outweighs the negative effects of this added pressure.
Safety should always be at the forefront of your mind whenever you take part in a new physical activity. Swimming is no exception to this rule. Below, we’ll go over why swimming goggles are considered to increase safety instead of danger. Read until the end to discover whether or not swimming goggles are even worth wearing.
Why Swimming Goggles are Generally Safe for Your Eyes
When people first think of swimming attire, their mind automatically shifts to one of three things: a swimsuit, a swim cap, or a pair of swimming goggles.
It’s no secret that goggles have been cemented into the checklist of swimmer’s essentials. In truth, experienced swimmers rarely ever give it a second thought when they pack a pair of swimming goggles into their workout bag.
Go to any lap pool, and you’ll see for yourself that practically all the swimmers wear goggles. Even the best of the best, Michael Phelps, would never be caught in a lap pool without being fitted with a nice pair of goggles.
Despite its prevalence in the swimming community, however, there are still lingering questions regarding the safety of goggles. They’re not entirely sold on the idea that goggles are completely safe.
Their primary concerns are usually centralized around the subject of intraocular pressure. We touched on it earlier, but let’s delve a bit deeper into exactly what intraocular pressure means.
Brief Overview of Intraocular Pressure
Put simply, intraocular pressure is the fluid pressure in the eye (source). Fluid pressure increases in response to any physical force that’s pushed against the eye area. Intraocular pressure can be harmful because it disturbs the fragile fluid equilibrium within their eyes. If left untreated, it can lead to serious eye damage, such as:
- retinal detachment
Researchers conducted a study surrounding this very topic to address whether or not swimming goggles could increase intraocular pressure to a degree where serious damage occurs.
They measured the intraocular pressure of various types of swimming goggles. Researchers did this to see if any pair of goggles would cause intraocular pressure to exceed the normal healthy bounds of the human eye.
The results of their experiment are depicted in the table below (source):
|Normal Range of Intraocular Pressure||Intraocular Pressure Where Eye Damage Can Occur||Average Increase in Intraocular Pressure from Wearing Goggles|
|10 to 21||>21||4.5|
Why the Intraocular Pressure Caused By Goggles is Safe
Now that you have the data laid out in front of you, you’re probably wondering what this data means in real terms.
Since the average increase in intraocular pressure was measured to be only 4.5, it’s improbable that a pair of goggles would cause a person’s intraocular pressure to exceed 21—the point where eye damage occurs. In short, an increase of 4.5 isn’t significant enough for the fluid pressure in your eyes to reach a dangerous threshold.
Plus, if the goggles were to exceed the threshold of 21, the damage would only occur if swimmers wore the goggles for an extended period of time. It’s unlikely that this would happen since you would simply take off the goggles if the pressure on your eyes became overbearing. Even competitive swimmers take off their goggles as soon as they’re finished with their workout.
In a separate study, researchers addressed whether any increase in intraocular pressure remained after swimmers took off their goggles. They found that while intraocular pressure increased slightly while swimmers wore the goggles, fluid pressure immediately went back down to normal levels as soon as the goggles were taken off (source).
This is a fortunate finding because it shows that any eye pressure sustained from wearing goggles is temporary, not permanent. If eye pressure continued to increase every time goggles were worn, swimmers would be in big trouble!
Thus, this study offers convincing evidence that goggles are relatively safe to wear for the typical swimmer. Not only do swimming goggles fail to cause dangerously high levels of intraocular pressure, but they also aren’t likely to be worn long enough for significant damage to occur.
Nonetheless, those with pre-existing eye conditions, such as glaucoma or uveitis, should stay away from goggles. Although the increase in eye fluid pressure is marginal, it still could result in further complications. So if you have a pre-existing eye condition, it’s best to avoid these issues by steering clear of swimming goggles altogether.
Why Swimming Goggles are More Protective than Damaging
Regardless of whether or not your swimming goggles can increase the intraocular pressure your eyes feel to borderline dangerous levels, they’re still more protective than damaging. The most prominent ways that swimming goggles preserve the healthy condition of your eyes are outlined below.
Safeguards Against Negative Effects of Chlorine
For those of you who have spent tens to hundreds of hours in swimming pools, you are well aware that the high levels of chlorine can irritate or even damage your eyes with enough exposure.
Oftentimes, prolonged eye exposure to chlorine could result in “swimmer’s eyes.” This is characterized by several symptoms, including but not limited to (source):
- fogged vision
Virtually every swimming pool has chlorine to keep people safe. Chlorine may be important in keeping a pool healthy for visitors, but this doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily healthy to overly expose your eyes to this disinfecting substance.
It can be tempting to forgo the goggles and open your eyes underwater, but you will pay the price later. It’s a far better option to wear swim goggles, minimize chlorine exposure, and keep your vision from being impaired. With a pair of goggles that fit correctly, the surrounding chlorinated water will have a difficult time reaching your eyes.
Serves as a Protective Barrier Against Pool Pathogens
Despite the presence of chlorine within the water, it cannot remove all the harmful bacteria and microorganisms within a pool. With all the people coming and going, unhealthy germs inevitably find a way to get into the water. There’s simply too much for one disinfecting substance to handle!
There are even more harmful microorganisms found within open water, such as oceans and lakes. Unfortunately, there aren’t any maintenance crews monitoring the health status of these open water areas. Since these bodies of water are unregulated, there’s no telling what kinds of pathogens could be found in these water environments.
Your eyes are one of the primary access points for harmful microorganisms to get into your system. By wearing goggles, you effectively eliminate this access point. Any bacteria-ridden water won’t be able to sneak into your eyes if you have goggles on because of its extremely tight seal.
The last thing you want to deal with after a swimming session is an illness. For this reason, it’s well worth it to wear goggles and experience a bit of extra pressure on the eyes.
Should You Wear Swimming Goggles Underwater?
After weighing all the pros and cons, all of this discussion ultimately boils down to whether or not it’s recommended to wear goggles while in the water.
As aforementioned, those with pre-existing eye conditions shouldn’t wear swimming goggles because they could potentially make their current conditions even worse.
Aside from that, however, the majority of swimmers should wear goggles. The risks involved with prolonged exposure to chlorine and harmful microorganisms far outweigh any marginal increase in intraocular pressure.
It’s important to note that the type of goggles you choose to wear and how your goggles fit can significantly impact your eye health. If your goggles cause too much intraocular pressure or fit too loosely, you won’t receive all the health benefits of wearing goggles that you should.
For example, a loose-fitting pair of goggles won’t stop chlorine or harmful microorganisms from contacting your eyes. The whole purpose of wearing goggles in the first place is to keep water out. If your goggles fail to accomplish that, you need to either adjust their tightness or invest in another pair of goggles altogether.
Finding a reliable pair of goggles isn’t that difficult, but you should do your research beforehand before committing to any one pair. Wearing a pair of faulty swimming goggles is akin to wearing no goggles at all. In fact, you might even make the argument that wearing faulty goggles is worse than wearing no goggles.
In summary, you shouldn’t let your worries over eye pressure stop you from wearing goggles. The eye pressure you feel is perfectly safe. If you’re going to be scared of anything, you should be afraid of exposing your eyes to the harmful substances found within the water. Luckily, swimming goggles are the perfect combatant against such substances.