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

- asks Margaret from Ohio

July 16, 2007
"Oh no! Will the pool water sting my eyes?!" [CREDIT:]
"Oh no! Will the pool water sting my eyes?!" [CREDIT:]

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.

About the Author



robert says:

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….

lisa says:

Pink eye can have some bad results on your eyes especially if wearing contact lenses while swimming. The site does mention some eye drops from I think a company called Similasan.


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?

Anne says:

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.

Zak says:

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.

Meilana says:

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..

Alichem says:

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.

Bernie says:

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!

Dee says:

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.

Rebekah says:

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.

Betty - York, Pa. says:

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.

Daniel says:

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.

Kaitie says:

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.

alexa says:

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…

Rob says:

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.

rachel says:

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!!!

jason says:

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.

pankaj says:

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.

ken says:

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?

samuel says:

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.

lol says:


Nikki W. says:

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!

Marty says:

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.

Udaya says:

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.

al says:

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.

diarrhea says:

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.

go out doors says:

i got in the pool today and i came out with my eyes blurry

Nicole says:

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!!!

Monoco says:

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 says:

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

Angie says:

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.

Parvathy says:

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!

Madison says:

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.

Renee says:

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

choco says:

confirmed: milk works

lilbossswag says:

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!

Les says:

I have also experienced better eyesight and cleaned out nasal passages after surfing in the ocean.

Elle says:

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.

Tanii says:

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……

Kerry Col says:

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 says:

Let me clarify above statement….ONLY take the fish oil/flaxseed oil by mouth….DO NOT put DIRECTLY in EYES!

Kerry Col says:

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!

NORMA says:


Terry Bee says:

I have a real problem with dry and murky eyes to the point where driving at nighttime is becoming a bit risky, I have tried every eye lubricant on the planet with next to no noticeable results strangely enough if I swim in a chlorinated pool and open my eyes under water by the time I get out of the pool my murky eyes have cleared the effect lasts for around 20 minutes and is a massive improvement

susan says:

i got chlorinated water in my eye and it burned – when i came out i have floating spot all day- so scary= read about it to go to a dr. not hazy but floatig spot-looked up optometrist if this does not go away = only irritaetd my eye few minutes because i was wearing goggles- but chlorine too strong-

you can put eyedrops in

Thaily says:

I went to the pool at 3 in the afternoon and when i got out my eyes were really foggy and its 10:30 at night and i still see blurry but worse i can barely see the letters on the screen. But in this time period i tried putting on eye droplets and all it does is sting a lot and burn. Someone please help I have school tomorrow & my eyes look so red/pinkish and they are blurry.

Rob says:

Great post, I always get eye irritation when swimming without goggles, does anyone know if it can have any long term effects if you get regular irritation?

Tony says:

my 7 yr old daughter was in a lot of pain and complained of blurry vision after spending seeral ours in our salt water pool, tried rinsing her eyes with water but didnt really work. tried the milk solution as i saw others mention here and well it did indeed work. Had my doubts but not any more.

Alex says:

That happened to me also. I work in a strawberry factory and they use a chlorine base rinse and It gets in my eyes it’s a very scary, horrible feeling the burning,itching, stinking,cloudy and blurry can’t open my eyes feeling. I rinsed my eyes with cool water that brings a temporary relief and some eye drop as well but it will go away on its own but I do find that placing a cold compress on your eyes also seems to help a lot until the symptoms go away.

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