Eyes React to Pool Water

There aren't many things better for relief on a hot muggy day than a swim in a lake or pool.

But that can increase your chances of getting eye infections resulting from contact with contaminated water, according to an eye specialist at the University of Iowa.

Eye infections may be caused by bacteria or other organisms in the water, says Dr. John Sutphin, professor and director of corneal diseases and surgery in the UI Carver College of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology.

Confining your swimming to a pool is no guarantee of avoiding eye infections.

Just because a pool has chlorinated water does not mean it is germ-free, Sutphin says. Foreign substances--fallen leaves, insects, dirt--can enter the pool, and bacteria might develop. Eye infections also can be spread from swimmer to swimmer.

The most common type of eye infection resulting from swimming in contaminated water is called conjunctivitis, commonly called "pink eye." When this occurs, the eyes become reddish and fluid is discharged.

Sutphin says the infection usually will be either viral or bacterial.

A viral infection is usually "self-limited," therefore no medical treatment is required and the condition will heal naturally.

But a bacterial infection is more serious and usually will require a visit to a doctor who likely will treat it with antibiotics. Rarely, a more severe infection caused by the protozoa Acanthamoeba may occur and persist despite the use of antibiotic treatment.

When the condition is serious--indicated by discharge of fluid from the eye or light sensitivity--you should see a doctor within a day, Sutphin says.

University of Iowa Health Science Relations and John Sutphin, MD