When you get out of the pool, why is your vision filmy and cloudy? Does this damage your eyes?

- asks Margaret from Ohio

"Oh no! Will the pool water sting my eyes?!" [CREDIT: Hotelsplash.com]
By | Posted July 16, 2007
Posted in: Ever Wondered?, Health
Tags: , , ,

Ahh, the lazy days of summer. The sun is shining, the weather is warm and there’s nothing better than taking a dip in a swimming pool to cool down and relax. But, sometimes this quintessential summertime activity can leave your eyes itchy and irritated.

Your eyes are experiencing what the American Optometric Association calls chemical conjunctivitis—a swimming pool induced case of pink eye, only this version is just an irritation and resolves on its own without treatment. Chlorine can be blamed for causing the discomfort.

Chlorine, a basic ingredient for many household cleaning products, is contained in swimming pool chemicals, such as calcium or sodium hypochlorite, which act as ‘antimicrobial pesticides’, killing bacteria and controlling algae in the water.

Since pool water is open to contamination from the air and all the swimmers in it, chlorine, along with other chemicals such as iodine and algaecide, are added in high concentrations to fight off disease spreading organisms.

The average, backyard in-ground pool holds about 33,000 gallons of water, according to the Infinity Swimming Pool company. To ensure the water is clean, about 12- to 95-percent chlorine must be used because factors such as evaporation and sun exposure can cause the chemicals to degrade. According to the EPA, the average household cleaner contains about two percent chlorine, while standard bleach contains only about five percent.

The chlorine’s pH level is one cause of eye irritation. PH—a measurement of how acidic or basic a substance is—can be measured on a scale of one to 14. Since the pH of normal water is seven, this is considered a neutral pH; anything less than seven is acidic and anything higher than 7 is basic. The pool’s pH must be at an appropriate level in order for the chlorine to be effective. A pH level between 7.2-7.8 is considered acceptable.

Chlorine is 100-percent effective against bacteria at a pH of 6.5, but this is far too low for our skin to handle—it would be like taking a refreshing dip in acid. At the level used in pools, chlorine is less able to break down bacteria, fats, oils and everything else we take into the water with us. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Science Forum, if these compounds are not completely broken down, they can also cause stinging eyes and irritation.

Likewise, an over-chlorinated pool can put you at risk for eye irritations: If there is too much of the compound, our eyes can itch and sting from over-exposure. Normal chlorinated pool water should not do any permanent damage to eyes, but some may be more sensitive than others.

Although not usually a problem, there are all kinds of bugs living in swimming pools…and also in freshwater swimming sites, like lakes and rivers. One of these creatures, called acanthamoeba, can cause sever pain and damage to your eyes, and may even result in the need for a corneal transplant, says Dr. Burt Dubow from the website All About Vision.

Blurry vision as a result of freshwater swimming is usually attributed to the cleanliness of the water. Certain types of bacteria and algae can be especially harsh on your eyes. One of the most common is called cyanobacteria, also known as pond scum. Cyanobacteria is often a result of warm, stagnant waters—so the best way to avoid this is to swim in lakes that are sparkling clear and pristine.

Prevent irritation when swimming in fresh or chlorinated water by wearing goggles when swimming—especially if you wear soft contact lenses. Dubow says that water can change the way your contact lenses fit, making them too tight and causing eye problems.

Flushing your eyes with cool, fresh water after your swim is an easy way to calm any eye irritation. Saline eye drops are also a simple fix for sore eyes, making them an essential beach item for this summer season.

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  1. Interesting realtionship of exigencies and potentialities, that the world’s inherent nature enables all of these following things: 1) chemicals that kill biological organisms, 2) biological organisms that tolerate them in various degrees, such that, 3) the biological organism that uses the chemicals to protect itself is nonetheless not protected from some of the most dangerous ones, because, 4) one of the biological organisms that would harm it can tolerate a deadly chemical more than it can. Surely there’s a moral here. It must be that people will have to stop swimming. No. That can’t be it. How about….

    robert, July 17, 2007 at 12:48 pm
  2. Pink eye can have some bad results on your eyes especially if wearing contact lenses while swimming. The site http://www.eyecaresource.com/conditions/pink-eye/ does mention some eye drops from I think a company called Similasan.

    lisa, July 18, 2007 at 7:23 am
  3. I was in a swim class, at my gym this morning, and it has been about 3 hours and my eyes are cloudy as if I’m looking through eyeglasses that are very dirty. My vision is blurry as if looking through a light smoke filled room. I wear glasses and even with my glasses on my vision is clearer but the same film seems to be there. I have never experienced this before and it is quite scary. My eyes feel dry, and drops do not seem to help. Has anyone evr experienced this side effect?

    SONJA DIETERS, May 17, 2008 at 3:47 pm
  4. Sonja, that happens to me too. It’s temporary & using some artificial tears can cleanse the pool water from your eyes.
    It never happened to me when I was ‘young’. Now I guess I’m more sensitive & I need to start liking goggles.

    Anne, June 9, 2008 at 9:08 pm
  5. That’s happening to me right now, and it IS scary. But hopefully, Anne is right and some artificial tears and some patience will clear my vision. I’ll check back with you later.

    Zak, August 28, 2008 at 9:16 pm
  6. that is happening to me RIGHT NOW, and it is very frightening. i got out if the pool like 2 hours ago and my eves are still like this. i tried eyedrops and that doesn’t seem to work.. Maybe i’ll try using the cool water idea..

    Meilana, June 15, 2009 at 8:48 pm
  7. I also experienced the same thing. When I got our of the pool I was feeling like in dense smog. It was first time for me and I thought like I lost my vision. I was so scared I rushed to room had a fresh cool water shower but did not help. Then I took an onion from refrigerator and put some cold pieces on my eyelids and also cut some onions so that my eyes starts tears and that really helped me me.

    Alichem, June 21, 2009 at 2:10 pm
  8. There are alternatives to chlorinating pools, oxygenation can be extremely effective. So can saline. Even for large public pools, used by large numbers of people, it is possible to reduce the amount of chlorine greatly (some states or cities have minimums) and have a much safer swimming environment without irritation. I don’t know why more pools don’t do this–but definitely consumers should demand more. It makes no sense to be eating organic and then swimming in heavy chlorine!

    Bernie, July 15, 2009 at 9:40 pm
  9. I have worked at a pool for 8 years and experience this effect regularly with no long term damage. I do notice that my eyes burn the most when the pool is cloudy from sunscreen and a lot of swimmers. The pH is a huge contributer as well as the dissolved solids count which all can irritate the eyes. On crowded days its the equivalent of spraying sunscreen in your eyes. Wear googles and use eye drops before and after swimming to reduce the pain.

    Dee, August 17, 2009 at 10:02 pm
  10. Ummm… just so you all know, salt water pools are still chlorinated, the chlorine is just in the salt (Sodium Chloride) Its just a process of breaking the salt into sodium and chlorine, and the sodium can actually be more irritating than chlorine. Rinsing your eyes with pasteurized milk helps a lot with stinging eyes, it seems silly but it feels really good.

    Rebekah, August 25, 2009 at 11:21 pm
  11. Yesterday after swimming at the gym, without goggles, I had a scary experince
    with my eyes. At first I thought my glasses needed to be cleaned which was not
    the case. It was though I was looking through a smoke filled room and after 5
    hours of this I was starting to panic, concerned that maybe I had damaged my
    eyes. I called my eye doctor and he said to get Systane (a lubricant eye drop). This really helped me and I just wanted to pass on some info that maybe
    could help the next person.

    Betty - York, Pa., January 10, 2010 at 9:56 am
  12. Rebekah – salt water pools are not ‘chlorinated’. They contain the ion, chloride (Cl-) which is chemically inert (and found in high levels in the blood). Chlorinated pools contain chlorine (Cl2) which is chemically highly reactive, responsible for the antiseptic effect. Sodium chloride might sting by drying your eyes out a bit, chlorine will chemically react with the eye’s surface causing irritation.

    Daniel, March 22, 2010 at 4:59 pm
  13. That has happened to me before. I was swimming in the pool for a verrry long time and when I got out the pool I was completely blind. All I could see was white or like looking through a very foggy glass.

    Kaitie, March 26, 2010 at 7:43 pm
  14. Yesterday I had a similar experience myself. I had been swimming for an hour in a covered swimming pool where I regularily go to, and one lens from my goggles must have been slightly broken, because water kept coming in, into my left eye. When I finally took a break, I started looking around and I saw that there was a lot of mist. I really believed it was smoke or something similar, which is really funny, but when I accidently looked with my right eye, I realized that there was no smoke at all. This scared me out of my wits, so I got out from the swimming pool immediately and went to a sink to cleanse my eyes with fresh water. I thought I damaged my vision, so I washed myself in order to go home. After 15 mins my vision got better, but now I really think I MUST by a new pair of goggles and use some drops before and after swimming.
    Now, when I think of it even better, I think I had had this problem before, last winter for example, when I used to swim without my goggles and I remember one day I saw so much smoke everywhere, but, perish the thought, I actually DID believe that there was smoke from overheating or something like it…

    alexa, April 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm
  15. The burning you feel in your eyes is usually from either improper PH balance (too low) or too much combined chlorine. Free chlorine is the good chlorine that kills the bacteria. Combined chlorine is what gets used up and often smells bad and burns your eyes. It is much better to swim in a pool with too much fresh chlorine than not enough. While the average pool store recommends a free chlorine level of 1 to 3PPM, that is usually too low, especially if your pool has a lot of stabilizer (CYA).. It is generally safe to swim in pools with up to 8PPM free chlorine. It certainly beats the alternative of having improperly disinfected pool water.

    Rob, April 20, 2010 at 10:49 am
  16. i had this problem like @ or # hours ago but this really works!!! ..get cotton ballls nd put them in very cold water and close your eyes nd put the cold cotton ball on it and change it almost every minute and then after yu can put eye drops on and keep ur eyes closed for a while until the eyedrop penetrates…my mom did it for me thanks to her it went away real quick i love my mom!!!

    rachel, April 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm
  17. salt pools convert salt into chlorine by passing electricity through salt water and making it’s own chlorine. the benefit is less dangerous chemicals to store and handle. the disinfection is the same.

    jason, June 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm
  18. I’ve also experience the same thing. I felt like it’s mist everywhere. Afterwards I was very worried about my eyes. But, It heeled itself. After 5 hours, my vision was clear.

    pankaj, October 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm
  19. My vision is best after swimming/scuba diving in salt water. Once I get out my vision is perfect for a few hours. Anyone else experience this?

    ken, November 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm
  20. this thing is some scary stuff. I have it now. As i type all i see is some white and black display. I hope it heals fast all by itself.

    samuel, December 14, 2010 at 9:47 am
  21. lolll

    lol, January 19, 2011 at 5:32 am
  22. My 11yr old daughter spent the better part of today swimming in a salt water pool. She got out dhe to her eyes burning & being blurry. She was crying hysterically due to the stinging. I searched google and found this page (how to get salt water out of eyes)…thank u so much! We initially did tge cold water rinse, eye drops, cold towel over eyes…none of which worked. Fortunately someone posted pasturized milk eye rinse!! Saved my life!!! It really did work…thank goodness! Thank you for posting that suggestion…very effective!

    Nikki W., July 3, 2011 at 10:52 pm
  23. Just went to the grocery store and picked up some equaline eye drops. On the box it says “revive plus”, stuff works amazing. I went to the store rite after my swim today which was around 3 pm because I could hardly open my eyes. The eye drops I bought were terrible and everything else I had tried didnt work. So I went back to the store and the pharmacist recommended these eye drops. After 4 hrs of burning and irritated eyes I can finally relax now because of this stuff. Oh and try putting one in the freezer before you use it, it feels even better.

    Marty, August 17, 2011 at 10:30 pm
  24. I have tried every possible option, but still I feel the same. My vision is so blurry. I was out of the pool almost 06 hours ago. I think I will have to try the pasturized milk eye rinse as suggested by Rebekah.

    Udaya, October 29, 2011 at 4:22 am
  25. You could even take a bath in orange juice and other than being sticky afterwards be totally fine. The pH of orange juice is around 3 due to the cytric acid in it. Really do some god damn research. A pH of 6.5 is not dangerous.

    al, February 25, 2012 at 7:03 pm
  26. Yea i got sprayed by a skunk and took a bath in tomato juice. Tomato juice has a pH between 3 and 4. How can you believe the rest of this article when the author says a pH of 6.5 is “far to low” and dangerous to our skin? 6.5, haha 7 is a neutral pH.

    diarrhea, February 25, 2012 at 7:24 pm
  27. i got in the pool today and i came out with my eyes blurry

    go out doors, April 22, 2012 at 12:35 am
  28. THIS WORKS:I took my kids swimming for 2 hours and when they got home they both were scared and crying because they could only see big white spots! I had them lay on a towel and I soaked cotton balls in cold milk. I pryed their eyes open and squeezed the milk soaked cotton into their eyes, then gently wiped the cotton ball over their eyelashes ( to clean the chlorine & sunblock away).The milk did not burn their eyes at all. I told them to blink several times. It worked like a charm! They instantly stopped crying and said their vision was almost back to normal. I’m a happy mommy right now, and will do this again in an hour to make sure the eyes are completely cleaned. From now on, there will be NO swimming without proper fitting goggles. The good ones are worth the money!!!

    Nicole, June 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm
  29. I was swimming in a very chlorine filled pool and I got out and I thought my family had put a fire on because everything was so smoky/foggy. Here I am some 3 hours later with the same vision problems, well I better go try these suggestions. :/

    Monoco, June 17, 2012 at 12:17 am
  30. Just a follow up… I put the cold water towel trick over my eyes and it didn’t work. So I went to bed[afriad if I close my eyes that I won't be able to see when I wake] and I wake up at 7:02 a.m and I can see like I did before I swam in that pool! But I think if this lasts more than a day go to a doctor… but usally it’s just temporary and the eyes heal themselves

    Monoco, June 17, 2012 at 9:10 am
  31. This also happend to me on Sunday night, was in the pool all day. When i got out of the pool my eyes were so red and irritated. I washed them out that night but i still saw blurry and yes its a very scary feeling. Even with my glasses on i could not see much . Next morning i woke up and same thing blurry (freakin out) , stayed home from work because i sit in front of a computer screen all day so that wasnt going to help. Washed my eyes throught out the day and rested them while using a cold mask on them to sooth them. Later that evening i could see, was so relieved.

    Angie, July 17, 2012 at 10:07 am
  32. I too experienced the same today when I got out of the pool and I’m so happy to read this article. I tried cutting onions so that I get some tears but my vision was still hazy and blurry and I found it impossible to look directly at light. I went to the doctor who prescribed me Carboxymethyl cellulose Sodium ophthalmic solution and i was fine after 4-5 hours. But I think next time, I’ll try pasteurized milk and i’m buying a speedo goggles right away!

    Parvathy, July 31, 2012 at 11:10 am
  33. Ugh… All the lights look brighter and blurry.. I’m on my phone reading this right now, and there’s a creepy white glow coming off of the screen. Haha I’m gonna try some of this stuff.

    Madison, August 10, 2012 at 11:01 pm
  34. Onions work… I stripped a couple of pieces and laid on my back and put them on my eye lids and kept my eyes opened. I did this for about 10 min. i teared a whole lot and my eyes were a whole lot better

    Renee, October 3, 2012 at 6:36 pm
  35. confirmed: milk works

    choco, January 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm
  36. This is happening right now and I tried every thing eye drops and everything. I have had this problem for about 3 hours now with no difference please help!

    lilbossswag, March 15, 2013 at 6:54 pm
  37. I have also experienced better eyesight and cleaned out nasal passages after surfing in the ocean.

    Les, June 13, 2013 at 9:09 am
  38. This happened to me! I had not swam in years and didn’t have goggles when I got home the vision went blurry I was trying to focus my eyes but they wouldn’t! I was very frightened after an hour or so and no luck! 5 hours later they cleared back to normal. Never had this reaction so I’m gad it is somewhat normal because I thought it was unusual and needed to see a doctor.

    Elle, July 21, 2013 at 11:15 am
  39. This had happened with me too….actually after swimming when i got out of the pool my eyes were blurry and hazzy and i couldn’t saw anything…….i was too scary too……

    Tanii, July 6, 2014 at 12:44 am
  40. Children’s fish oil capsules or taking a little flaxseed oil by spoon works by lubing everything up too. Takes about 15 – 20 minutes to fully be effective but works like a charm!

    Kerry Col, July 13, 2014 at 8:59 am
  41. Let me clarify above statement….ONLY take the fish oil/flaxseed oil by mouth….DO NOT put DIRECTLY in EYES!

    Kerry Col, July 13, 2014 at 9:03 am
  42. Fish oil/flaxseed oil is great for any “dry” conditions when taken orally. If you have dry skin or hair or scalp, or as in the case of this message board…dry eyes, then taking this orally (always by mouth only!) it relieves any “dry” condition by “lubing” the body from the inside out.

    It works great for allergies, eczema, etc. too!

    Kerry Col, July 13, 2014 at 9:06 am
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