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How Long To Avoid Swimming After Cataract Surgery
Hold up before you plan your big beach or snorkeling trip if you are also planning cataract surgery. Yes, it will be fun to splash around in the water and see things more clearly than before without cataracts. But after cataract surgery, you it’s important to avoid swimming for a short while.
Submersing the eye in water after cataract surgery can cause problems for your recovery. After cataract surgery, the eye needs to heal before you can safely return to swimming.
In general, many will recommend staying out of the water for two weeks after cataract surgery. Following that, wearing goggles in the water is highly recommended until one month out. This helps prevent any infections from developing inside the eye as well as protects the eye from any additional irritation.
The problem is, water isn’t clean.
Water Contains Bacteria
Unless you go swimming in sterile water (not sure how you would do that), you WILL encounter bacteria (and other pathogens) while swimming. Even in the shower, the eye can come into contact with bacteria.
But swimming in pools, lakes and oceans carry a high risk of getting bacteria in the eye.
Now, in normal circumstances this bacteria doesn’t effect you. If water and / or bacteria get onto the eye, it doesn’t cause infections. The surface of the eye prevents any bacteria from entering the eye. (one exception: if you wear contact lenses in water, then you are at a higher risk of infection).
But after cataract surgery, the eye is different.
The Eye After Cataract Surgery
One of the most feared complications with cataract surgery is getting an infection within the eye - called endophthalmitis. An infection inside the eye can cause bad vision loss if not promptly treated with antibiotics.
Fortunately infections are rare; and restrictions after cataract surgery exist to prevent infections as much as possible.
One way to prevent infections is to avoid getting an excess amount of bacteria on the eye.
The tiny micro incisions after cataract surgery are water tight. But it is possible for them to briefly open up and leak during the first few weeks after cataract surgery due to changes in pressure in the eye. (this is the reason to avoid strenuous activity and weight lifting after cataract surgery). A leaking incision provides a way for bacteria to get through and into the eye.
Thus it is important to keep the surface of the eye clean and as bacteria free as possible. This means avoiding a big source of bacteria - water.
What About Goggles?
Yes, there are ways to swim without getting water in the eyes. And if you routinely swim, you probably already use goggles to protect your eyes from water.
Goggles are great, but goggles aren’t fool proof. Anyone who has swam or snorkeled with goggles for a period of time has ultimately experienced times where the goggles leak. And when the goggles leak, water can get into the eyes.
And so while goggles are great, they can’t allow you to get back into swimming immediately after cataract surgery. You don’t want to take any chances of getting dirty water into the eyes.
If You Do Get Water In The Eye…
Chances are still fortunately low that it will cause any problems. A lot of things have to go wrong for an infection to happen. Not only does the bacteria have to get onto the surface of the eye, but the incision must also leak AND allow bacteria to ingress into the eye. It takes a perfect storm of events - and one reason why infections are very rare after cataract surgery.
But to reduce the risk even further if you do get water in the eye:
- Rinsing out the eye with preservative-free artificial tears can help sweep any bacteria off of the surface of the eye
- Be sure to avoid doing any heavy lifting or strenuous activity which may cause the incision to leak
- Most importantly, be alert for any signs of infection: blurred vision, increased redness or eye pain and notify your surgeon if you experience any of these symptoms.
Beyond About Two Weeks
But keep those goggles handy for when you get further out from cataract surgery.
Starting about two weeks out from cataract surgery, swimming can be resumed - with goggles.
After about two weeks, the risk of infection dramatically drops. By this time, the cataract incision has undergone a significant amount of healing. Many of the activity restrictions have gone away.
But if you are going to venture to the pool or beach, be sure to bring your goggles. Just because the infection risk has deceased doesn’t mean that the water won’t effect your eyes.
Don’t leave home to swim without a pair of these; Image courtesy of Amazon.com
Cataract surgery (and the eye drops you take after cataract surgery) cause a small amount of inflammation and irritation on the surface of your eye. This can cause the eyes to be achy after cataract surgery and in some cases can also make the vision fluctuate and become slightly blurry.
Gradually over the course of the first month, this inflammation heals up and the eyes start to become more comfortable.
Ever get salt water in the eye? Yeah it burns!
Now think about how bothersome it would be with an eye that’s already sensitive because of the cataract surgery. Same goes with pool water. The chlorine and chlorine byproducts just won’t help with the healing of the eye.
If you do desire to swim two weeks out from cataract surgery, be sure to wear a pair of goggles. These goggles will protect your eyes and prevent the ocean and pool from causing more irritation to the eyes. Even if these goggles leak, it is still better than no goggles at all.
Avoiding swimming for at least two weeks after cataract surgery can help ensure that everything heals up as desired without any extra complications such as an infection. While infections are rare, it is still important to prevent them as much as possible because they can cause loss of vision. After about two weeks, resuming swimming with goggles is the best way to be sure the ocean water or pool water doesn’t cause any additional irritation or inflammation on the eyes.
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