The Important Things To Know Before Swimming After Lasik
Lasik unlocks the door to swimming and actually being able to see! Can't swim with glasses; and swimming with contact lenses is unsafe because of infections. But after lasik you don't have to worry anymore about how you will see things in the pool, lake or ocean.
But if you just got lasik done, swimming will have to wait. Lasik doesn't have many restrictions. But swimming is really the main one. There are a few reasons why swimming MUST be avoided for the first few weeks after lasik.
Swimming increases the risk of infection
Infection after lasik is very rare. But given that lasik is an optional procedure, we want to make sure that the infection rate stays very rare. If there is anything we can do to prevent infection after lasik, we want to do it. While some of it may be overkill, as the saying goes it's better to be safe than sorry.
To correct vision, lasik creates a lasik flap just below the surface of the cornea. This flap is folded back for the lasik treatment and then this flap is placed back in place. To create a flap, however, the laser has to create a break in the layer of cells on the surface of the cornea called the epithelium. The epithelium serves as the guardian of the cornea. It blocks bad agents such as bacteria from entering the cornea. So when there is suddenly a break in the epithelium, bacteria can get through, get underneath the lasik flap and cause an infection.
So why don't infections happen more frequently? The epithelium heals up really quickly. Within the first few hours after lasik, the epithelium has already healed over the break. There just isn't enough time for bacteria to enter and cause an infection. Antibiotic drops help too.
But despite healing over quickly, the epithelium isn't at full strength yet. This can take a few weeks for the epithelium to completely return back to normal. Until then, there is still a remote possibility that bacteria can somehow get past the barrier and cause an infection of the cornea. Thus, we want to avoid getting bacteria in the eye until the epithelium becomes strong again.
The way to avoid getting bacteria in the eye is to avoid water. Bacteria love water. And it's all kinds of water as well. Don't think that you can get away from bacteria by swimming in a pool compared to a lake or ocean. Bacteria still exists in pools.
So the most important thing you can do for your eyes after lasik for the first few weeks is to avoid swimming. While the risks of an infection are low, you don't want to gamble with your eyes.
Swimming can irritate the eyes
Infection isn't the only problem with swimming early on after lasik (but it is the biggest issue with swimming). The other issue is that the eyes can become more irritated after swimming. In pools, you have chlorine that can irritate the eyes. In oceans, you have saltwater that can irritate the eyes.
Anything that irritates the eyes will cause some extra inflammation on the surface of the eye. Inflammation will actually cause some dry eye; it inhibits the ability of the eye to produce natural tears. This isn't desirable after lasik. After lasik, the eye is already in a state of dry eye.
For the first few months after lasik, everyone will have some extra dry eye. The lasik flap and the treatment within the cornea disrupt some of the tiny nerves that exists all throughout the cornea. These nerves are responsible for the eye's ability to respond to dryness by producing more tears. This reflex is blunted after lasik when these nerve connections are disrupted. The eye can't produce as much tears as it normally can and the eye dries out more. That is, until the nerves regenerate and the cornea is able to respond to dry eye changes again.
Throwing extra inflammation on top of the eye makes the recovery after lasik harder. It contributes to more dry eye after lasik. Keeping your eyes out of irritating bodies of water such as pools and oceans will go a long way towards allowing the eyes to heal up quicker after lasik.
Can goggles or swim mask help?
Yes. Goggles are a great solution to provide some protection to the eyes while swimming. But even with goggles, it is still NOT recommended to swim in the first few weeks after lasik. Goggles can leak, fall off, fill with water. They aren't foolproof solutions to keep water out of the eyes. But after you get past the first week or two, and when your surgeon clears you for water-related activity, goggles are great to continue to keep water out of the eyes. While the infection risk drops pretty quickly in the first few weeks, avoiding extra irritation will be a goal for the first few months. Goggles can achieve that goal by keeping enough water out of the eyes.
In addition to comfort, goggles will allow you to see better underwater. Our eyes are designed to see through air, not water. Water prevents light from focusing properly in our eyes (even after lasik). By providing a pocket of air in front of our eyes, you will see much better! If your goal is to see underwater, you will get much more enjoyment with your post-lasik eyes with goggles in front of them.
But eventually after lasik, as the eyes return back to normal, life in the water becomes so much more flexible. You don't have to worry about the water; you can just worry about how you are going to have the most fun possible.
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