How To Stop Sea Water Stinging Eyes

Although I love a day at the beach, I am never fully comfortable in the sea, as the salty water irritates my eyes.

I often find myself with stinging and squinting eyes, particularly on bright sunny days, as the glare from the sun combined with the salt in the water reduces my vision and generally makes sea swimming too uncomfortable.

To stop sea water stinging eyes, some preventative steps include wearing goggles or a mask, hydrating our eyes with eye drops before and after our swim, and drinking plenty of water to keep our eyes hydrated.

I am not a doctor, but I am a dedicated swimmer and determined to solve this problem because when I cannot see well in the ocean, I am not 100% immersed in my activity, be it sea swimming, a water sport such as surfing, or simply enjoying a quick dip.

To help find an answer to this problem that affects so many ocean swimmers, in this article I will share:

Why Does Salt Water Hurt My Eyes?

Given that our tears are salty, it’s logical to wonder why salty sea water can hurt our eyes.

Our tears comprise 98% water and 2% oil and salt. [source]

Sea water is four times saltier than our tears.

Although our tears contain some salt, the sea water is far saltier. As a result, the salty sea water will dehydrate our eyes, which will cause them to sting and feel irritable.

According to Dr Michael Steinmetz of the Wiles Eye Centre, water moves from an area of low salt concentration to an area of high salt concentration. As a result, salt water will dehydrate our eyes. [source]

How To Stop Sea Water Stinging Eyes

Although salty water is hard to contend with, there are some steps we can take to reduce the impact of sea water stinging our eyes.

1. Wear Goggles Or A Mask

Wearing goggles or a swim mask is a great way to protect your eyes from salt water.

Just like wearing goggles can prevent irritation from chlorine, they can also reduce irritation from salt water.

The added advantage of wearing swim goggles or a mask while sea swimming is that you can choose a smoked colour, mirror or polarised lens.

A darker-coloured goggle lens or a goggle lens that is mirrored or polarised will greatly reduce glare from the water.

Not only will you be reducing irritation from the water and improving underwater visibility, but you can also reduce glare from the sun, which can greatly improve your swim enjoyment.

I have covered how polarised and mirrored swim goggles reduced the sun’s glare in this article, What Colour Swim Goggles Are Best For Outdoor Swimming?

2. Use Eye Drops

Using eye drops before and after your swim will hydrate your eye and help build a barrier against the sea water.

According to the Michigan Eye Institute, using thicker gel eye drops before you swim and before you put on your goggles can help maintain balance and moisture in the eye. [source]

Personally, I have found that eye drops are wonderful at helping with salt and chlorine irritation.

I am not a doctor, so I will not be recommending specific eye drops. Having had very serious eye infections in the past, I have learned that our eyes are very delicate and it is important to only put the right type of eye drop into your eye.

Check with your local pharmacy or doctor for the best and safest advice on which eye drops are right for your eyes.

3. Keep Hydrated

As we know, drinking water is essential for hydration, and this is especially true when swimming in the sea.

When we swim in sea water, not only are we swimming in salty water, which will dehydrate our bodies, including our eyes, we sweat as we swim and are losing water, perhaps without realising it.

By drinking plenty of water, we will keep hydrated, which will help keep our eyes moist and balanced.

This will help reduce the irritation impact of salty sea water on our eyes.

4. Avoid Rubbing Your Eyes

When we get into salt water, our eyes feel irritated and our instinct is to rub them.

However, as your hands will also be covered in salt water, I have found that rubbing my eyes can really irritate them and make the stinging worse.

In addition, if you have any sunscreen on your hands, this can cause sunscreen to enter your eyes, which can be very irritating and sometimes painful.

You should try to wash your eyes out with fresh water as soon as possible if you get sunscreen in your eyes. [source]

5. Wash Your Eyes After Swimming

To reduce the prolonged impact of seawater on your eyes, it is important to wash your eyes with clean, fresh water after your swim.

A simple rinse of your eyes with cold fresh water will remove salt and any other contaminants that may be causing eye irritation.

To learn how to safely flush out your eyes, this article from Healthline covers the topic in good detail.

Final Thoughts

Sea water can often cause irritation and stinging in our eyes, but there are some ways we can reduce the impact.

By wearing goggles or a mask, using eye drops, keeping hydrated, avoiding rubbing our eyes and washing our eyes after swimming, we can minimise the effects of salt water on our eyes.

For me personally, the irritation is greatly reduced by wearing good goggles. I love that my mirrored swimming goggles also reduce the brightness of the sun, so I am squinting less, which can really fatigue the eyes.

Moisturising eye drops are really great at soothing the eyes before and after a swim. Used in conjunction with goggles, the irritation from the sea water is massively reduced.

Happy swimming!

Emma Moore

Hi, I am Emma, and I am obsessed with all watersports, from swimming to surfing and everything in between. I spend my free time in the water or preparing for my next water travel adventure.

Recent Posts