Swim goggles seem like an innocuous accessory that just keeps water out of your eyes, but they are a little more crucial to your ability to swim comfortably than you might realize. The goggles act as a protective layer that can keep your eyes healthy and let you avoid infections and irritations that could affect your eyesight. However, they can also prevent your children from learning an important water safety skill. If you and your family are planning to swim anytime soon, you need to seriously consider whether or not to use goggles. Looking at how the goggles affect your eye health and ability to see will help you make your decision.
Contacts and Bacterial Films
If you or anyone else who will be swimming has contacts and needs to wear them to see, you must wear goggles. Water, be it in a pool or the ocean, can make your contacts warp and not fit correctly. Plus, any bacteria or other icky substances in the water will have a tendency to stick to your contacts. Goggles protects your contacts and your ability to see after you get out of the water.
Bacteria, Fats, Amoebas, and Other Debris
Even if you don't wear contacts, goggles can protect your eyes from that same bacteria, plus skin oils and fats that end up in the water as more and more people swim in it. If you're swimming in a natural water source, like a lake, you can use goggles to protect your eyes from something called an acanthamoeba, which can destroy your corneas in severe cases.
Even if none of these other factors are at play—say the water in your pool is very clean—the chlorine will affect your eyes as well. If you try to open your eyes underwater while not wearing goggles, the chlorine could cause enough irritation to make your eyes red and painful. This is called chemical conjunctivitis because it mimics pinkeye but is due to chemical exposure.
Ability to See Underwater
Not wearing goggles also makes it harder to see clearly underwater. Of course, underwater, you know your vision is going to be somewhat blurry, but AllAboutVision.com notes that someone with 20/20 vision above water is actually legally blind underwater—it gets that blurry. If you're swimming with a lot of people or in a natural water formation that could have rocks, fish, and other obstacles appearing right in front of you, you're going to need vision that's as clear as possible to help you avoid a collision.
One time, though, when wearing goggles can have the opposite effect of causing trouble for your vision is if you're just learning how to swim. If you, or your children, learn how to swim only with goggles on, then if there's an emergency and you end up in water, the stinging and blurry vision you experience can adversely affect your ability to respond to the situation. Some swim teachers have taken to not using goggles during classes in order to let students get used to trying to open their eyes underwater.
If you want more information about protecting your vision while swimming, you can go to sites like this one to contact an optometrist, who can help you figure out the best route to take depending on your situation.