Don’t have perfect eyesight, but do you love exploring underwater?
Whether you wear glasses or contact lenses, you can absolutely scuba dive! However, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind!
As a glasses and contact lenses myself, I was worried that I would not be able to take the plunge and scuba dive. But in fact, there are many dive professionals that either wear contact lenses or glasses on land and have no trouble scuba diving at all!
The obvious “fix” is to have laser eye surgery, however not everyone can afford it (like me) so we have to opt for either scuba diving in contact lenses or wearing a prescription mask, and to be fair, it’s not the end of the world…
In this post, I am going to tell you everything you need to know about diving in contact lenses and prescription masks, and how to dispose of your contact lenses in an environmentally friendly way!
Scuba Diving With Contact Lenses
If you wear contact lenses, you must be careful when it comes to skills such as flooding the mask and a no-mask swim. You will need to keep your eyes closed, so you do not lose your contact lenses and to prevent them from becoming contaminated from the water.
I had to do this when I did all my training as I have worn glasses most of my life, and have now become quite the “pro” at teaching the no-mask swim as an instructor!
Contacts are held onto your eyes with suction, if you get a drop of water on them, and they move - you may have witnessed this in the rain, and trust me it is not fun!
If you are as blind as a bat, like me (-7.50), then you know the fear of not being able to see past your own arm’s reach, and becoming visually impaired underwater is also not fun.
Depending on how bad your vision is, losing a contact lens (or both!) can result in cancelling the dive, and most likely you will need to rely on your dive buddy to safely guide you to the surface and boat.
The GREAT thing about wearing contact lenses when scuba diving is being able to see after you take your mask off, which if you wear a prescription mask, you will need to wait until you find your glasses.
When you defog your mask, what do you use? Toothpaste? Branded defogger? Baby Soap? Something else perhaps? OR do you use your spit?
Contact lenses may absorb whichever defogging method you use, which is why it is best to stick to the good old-fashioned spit method, just to be on the safe side!
Are Hard or Soft Contact Lenses Better When Scuba Diving?
Hard contact lenses are rigid, so they do not allow gas exchange. This means during the ascent or after the dive, you may have issues with gas exchange which can cause nitrogen bubbles to escape, causing blurred vision. Hard lenses can also make your eyes very dry, which can be rather irritating!
Hard lenses are also usually smaller than soft lenses, so the suction is not as good, making it easier to lose them underwater. This is why I always choose to dive with soft lenses now!
So why are soft lenses better?
Soft lenses allow gas transfer from the eyes, so your vision is not affected after the dive from escaping nitrogen. They are also larger, so you will have better luck of keeping them stuck on your eyeballs, even if you have a little splash of water hit them - blink slowly a few times, and they should move back into place!
Personally, soft contacts are also more comfortable, and that’s from 15 years of experience wearing lenses!
Contact lenses come in different wear durations: daily lenses, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly. If you can get daily lenses, these are best for diving, as you can dispose of them after your dive.
If you have reusable lenses, be sure to give them a good rinse with a contact lens solution to sterilize them. Not sterilizing your lenses, increases the chance of eye infections from bacteria in the water.
When wearing any contact lenses, always check with the optician if your eyes are suitable for wearing them before buying any.
My top tip for diving with contact lenses is to bring some solution or contact lens-safe eye drops to rehydrate your eyes after the dive, and drink plenty of water!
Wearing a Prescription Mask When Scuba Diving
If you cannot wear contact lenses, or you do not like them, then why not buy a prescription mask?!
Depending on your prescription, there are many options! You can get off the rack standard masks with corrective lenses if your eyesight is not too bad, stick-on lenses, or you can buy bespoke lenses that cater for astigmatism and bifocal lenses too!
If you are a contact lens wearer who has monovision, you may prefer getting a bifocal prescription mask or a mask with only one prescription lens fitted.
You can also get small correction stickers that stick on the inside of your mask’s lens. These are much cheaper, but they do not last as long as buying a prescription mask.
Bifocal masks are like magnifying glasses, allowing you to see teeny-tiny marine critters like nudibranchs, sexy shrimp or pygmy seahorses!
A bespoke prescription mask is not cheap, but if you take good care of it, it will last years, and no matter how much you spend on it, nothing can repay you more than seeing marine life underwater.
If your prescription is still not stable, some companies sell the masks and lenses separately, so you can order a new prescription lens when it changes. Most scuba brands have prescription masks to offer, for example, Scubapro, Mares, Hollis, Tusa, Aqualung and Atomic.
Should I Wear Contact Lenses or a Prescription Mask?
That is completely up to you! If you normally wear contact lenses, then you should have no issues wearing them when scuba diving. However, if you only wear glasses, leaping to wearing contact lenses underwater can be difficult, so you may prefer buying a prescription mask.
Soft lenses generally give you better peripheral vision, and after the dive, you can take your mask off and still see.
If you are wearing a prescription mask or contact lenses, tell your dive buddy or guide. That way, if you lose your mask, or your contact lenses fall out during the dive, they can assist you.
The average cost of contact lenses: £20-30 per box
The average cost of prescription masks: £100
Think About the Environment: How to Dispose of Contact Lenses Correctly!
If you do opt for wearing contact lenses, then it is super important you dispose of them correctly!
As scuba divers, we are ocean ambassadors and are well aware of the dangers plastics are causing in the marine environment. Even though contact lenses are only a small percentage of the issue, it is still important to dispose of them properly, so you are not adding to the problem.
Many contact lens wearers throw their lenses in the toilet or down the sink, which is the wrong way to dispose of them. Contact lenses should be thrown in the bin. When contact lenses are thrown in the toilet or down the sink, they go into sewerage systems, flowing through water systems until they reach their final destination...the ocean.
Contact lenses are made from non-degradable materials. They easily break apart but do not break down, contributing to micro-plastics in the ocean that small fish and plankton consumers (for example, manta rays and whale sharks), mistake for food.
Some manufacturers are trying to tackle the issue by recycling contact lenses. Bausch & Lomb and Terracylce offer a recycling program in the US for contact lens wearers. They accept any brand of contact lenses, including the plastic blister packs they come in. To recycle your lenses in the US, you can find a local drop off here.
In the UK, TerraCycle® and ACUVUE® have partnered to create a free recycling programme for any brand of soft contact lenses and blister packs. All you have to do is drop off your accepted waste at one of the many public drop-off locations throughout the UK.
Image Source Terracycle
Once they collect your waste, they are sorted, shredded and washed. The material is then densified into hard-granulated plastic granules that can be used in the production of different plastic products that are not single-use, such as benches - how cool is that!
So, if you need to wear contact lenses or purchase a prescription mask, you can still scuba dive!
Contact lenses are recommended over a prescription mask as they help you see when your mask comes off, plus contact lenses cost less than prescription masks. But, whichever option you choose, you will be able to see all the amazing marine life underwater.
Are you a contact lens or a prescription mask diver?
What do you prefer?
Let me know in the comments below!
Written by Darby Bonner
PADI OWSI & Marine Biologist