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Bloodshot Eyes After Swimming or Sore Eyes From Swimming?

Why do I get bloodshot eyes after swimming?

Every time I (my child) spends time in the swimming pool I (they) get sore bloodshot eyes. Sometimes a headache too. Why is this?

Sore eyes from swimming?

My eyes sting and are red for some time after swimming, apart from wearing swimming goggles any alternative ideas would be gratefully received.

Do these complaints seem familiar to you? They should be. As a swimming teacher, I get them all the time.

I find it disturbing that the only answer that people are given is to Change their pool or get the management to fix the chlorine or the PH levels. It is true that high chlorine levels can cause sore eyes especially if they are accompanied by a headache but this is not always and in fact not usually the problem. The problem and indeed the answer is often much simpler.

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If You Are Getting Headaches

If you are getting headaches after swimming you should check with the swimming pool management to see if the levels are correct but it is most uncommon for a pool owner (unless it is a backyard pool) not to have regular checks of the levels. In Australia, it is essentially law that the pools must be checked every 4 hours. And most responsible pool own / operators would clear the pool if the check came up wrong until the levels are corrected.

So that is probably not the reason for sore eyes in most cases. No, the answer is usually that most swimmers "RUB" their eyes when they come up out of the water. It's the first thing that most swimmers do when they lift their head from the water. They "RUB"!

Think about it, when you rub your eyes even under normal circumstances you very gently scratch your eyeballs. Out of pool water, this is not a problem as your tear ducts lubricate your eyes as you do it. But pool water is designed to break down such lubricants as a part of its purification process so when you rub your eyes in the pool you actually are rubbing eyes that are dryer than normal. Add to this, there is stuff on your hands, sweat and other normal stuff that gets onto your hands from daily living, that gets rubbed into your eyes when you rub. Not to mention that you are rubbing chlorinated water from your hand into your eyes with your fingers. No wonder you get sore eyes from the pool even if the levels are correct.

The solution is to stop rubbing your eyes when you are in the pool. You should blink instead. Lots of blinking.

I Spend Up To Eight Hours In The Pool

I spend up to eight hours a day in the pool and never get sore eyes. Now I will admit that I do try to minimize the amount of time I get splashed or have to put my head underwater but still, I don't rub my eyes and I don't get sore eyes from such long exposure.

I take a lot of time to convince my swimming students to blink when they come out of the water and never to touch their eyes. As soon as they leave the water I say "Blink Blink blink" "Open shut them Open shut them". I do this because it works and I don't have students with sore eyes.

I even have a little poem that goes:

Creep Them

Creep them, creep them,
Creep them, creep them,
Right up to your eyes,
Open up your little eyes,
But do not let them in

The "Them" is, of course, the swimming students fingers and I get them to creep their fingers up their chest to their cheeks.

Sore eyes are even common for people who were goggles and it is usually the same thing that causes it. Rubbing Eyes.

How can that be you say?

Well, what's the first thing that people do when they come up from laps and take their goggles off?

Rub their eyes?

Don't do it and you will have sore eyes less often. Unless the pool levels are off.

If this doesn't fix your sore eyes, you should consult with your doctor as you may be allergic to the pool water.



  1. Sore eyes could be a sign of a poorly kept pool. When chlorine combines with dirt, the dirt is
    oxidised . When there is not enough chlorine or a high level of dirt then nitrogen trichloride gas is produced. This is a type of tear gas.

  2. G'day Amimee,

    You are correct about a poorly kept pool. However It has been my experience that most commercial pools have a very stringent regiment of checking on levels and they keep records, which make it hard to dispute. Not only that but chlorine levels high enough to affect your eyes would also, over time, begin to have other nasty effects on your body. By far and away the most common explanation is what I have outlined above. So I would stop rubbing your eyes before you start to blame the state of any commercial pool. Of course if it's not a commercial pool and/or you are not rubbing the your eyes then maybe there is another explanation.

  3. Hi, recently I have similar experience too but I am not sure mine is conjungivitis or just normal irritated sore eyes as I have discharge in my eyes and the tissue surrounding the eyes is red and swollen. My eyes lids would stick the next morning when I woke up.

    I have been swimming regularly about 40 laps a time in an olympic size pool and never had such experience but recently when I increase my exercise regime to 100 laps a time, I started to have this problem.

    I think I can rule out the chlorine water and the rubbing eyes causes. I am wondering whether it has anything to do with wearing my goggle for a long period of time of about 1 hour 45 minutes during my 100 laps swim where the eyes are not getting enough oxygen from being enclosed within the goggle? Elvin

  4. G'day Elvin,

    My first response would be for you to see your doctor. It sounds like you have an eye infection.

    Next I would ditch your goggles. It's more than probable they are harboring your infection. At the very least disinfect them. But for the price of goggles compared to the health of your eyes personally I'd throw them away and buy a new pair.

    Chlorine is a disinfectant and whilst, depending on the bug, it will kill most water borne nasties, it won't fix the underlying problem that caused the infection in your eye. You need to see your doctor for that. If fact like all disinfectants if it is not used correctly for any particular infection it can make that infection worse.

  5. Thank you Richard - you just saved me $160. My wife loves expensive doctors and was going to take our 15 yo son to him to see about his sore eyes. Your solution worked so, for the time being, you have saved me $160 and god-knows how much on useless medications he would have no doubt prescribed.

  6. As soon as i read about not rubbing your eyes i knew that it must be the problem. My 8 year old came out of the pool today after a two week stint of swimming lessons and immedeatly rubbed his eyes as he does every time he comes out of the water. but today was a longer session and his eyes were red and burning. he was rubbing his eyes like crazy today. he just fell asleep on the couch and i figured the sleep would give his eyes a chance to heal a bit. thanks for the great info!

  7. Is it ok to go swimming with sore eye?

    1. It depends on what is causing you to have sore eyes. You would have to, at the very least ask you doctor first. I would think that mostly it would be a good idea to stay out of the water until whatever is causing you sore eye has healed. Your Doctor would be the best one to ask.