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Poor Eyesight and Scuba - Diving With Corrective Lenses & Post-Eye Surgery

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Underwater businessman looking into the camera surrounded by bubbles. He is wearing shirt and a tie
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Like many divers, I am completely dependent on corrective lenses for survival. I have terrible vision, and without my contact lenses I would be unable to drive, walk down the street, or find my way around my own apartment. While some extreme activities require perfect vision (being a fighter pilot, for example), scuba diving isn't one of them. Divers with poor vision have a variety of options available to help them see underwater.

How Well Should A Diver Be Able to See Underwater?:

At what point should a diver take steps to correct his underwater eyesight? Depending upon the dive, slightly blurry vision at a distance may not present a problem. Many times, poor underwater visibility doesn't allow divers to see very far anyhow. However, if a vision problem impairs a diver's ability to read his submersible pressure gauge or see his dive buddy's hand signals, the diver should consider correcting his vision with either a prescription mask or soft contact lenses.

The Magnifying Properties of Water May Correct Mild Eyesight Problems:

During the open water certification course, student divers learn that objects appear one-third larger and closer underwater. If a diver has a very mild vision problem, the natural magnifying properties of water may correct his vision enough that it does not present a problem while underwater.

Can I Scuba Dive With Eyeglasses?:

A diver cannot wear his everyday eyeglasses underwater for the simple reason that earpieces of the eyeglasses will not allow the mask skirt to seal on the diver's face. Even if a mask could seal over eyeglasses, the pressure of the scuba mask on the nosepiece and the lenses of a diver's eyeglasses could cause them to grind uncomfortably into the diver's face. Instead of eyeglasses, many divers use masks with prescription lenses.

Scuba Diving with Prescription Masks:

Most scuba diving equipment manufacturers offer masks that can be ordered with prescription lenses, such as Cressi's "Focus" Mask. Some non-prescription masks may be modified by removing the stock lenses and replacing them with prescription ones. A diver who chooses to use a prescription mask must remember to bring his regular eyeglasses to the dive site so that he can see before and after the dive. On extended dive trips, he should consider bringing a second prescription mask as a back-up. In many remote locations, prescription masks are not readily available. Losing a prescription mask can ruin an entire dive vacation.

Can I Scuba Dive With Contact Lenses?:

I dive with contact lenses everyday, and I love it. According to the Diver's Alert Network (DAN), scuba diving with soft contact lenses rarely causes problems. However, DAN advises against diving with hard or gas permeable contact lenses as they may suction painfully to the eye due with the increased pressure underwater, or may cause blurry vision when air bubbles becomes trapped between the lens and the eye.

When diving with soft lenses, a diver should be sure to close his eyes if he floods or removes his scuba mask to avoid accidentally washing the contact lens away. (In a fit of curiosity one day, I did open my eyes with a mask full of water and one of my lenses washed away. This was the only time that I have lost a lens in thousands of dives.) A diver who uses contact lenses should also consider bringing contact lens rewetting drops along to the dive site. Rewetting drops will help in the extremely rare event that a diver's soft contact lenses become stuck to his eyes from the increased pressure of the dive.

Diving After Eye Surgery:

Diving is possible after most types of corrective eye surgery. Before returning to the water after eye surgery, a diver must allow time for his eyes to fully recover. Waiting times vary among surgical procedures, and of course, a diver should attend a follow up consultation with his doctor to confirm that his eyes have fully healed before returning to the water.

Any surgical procedure that compromises the structural integrity of the eye may be a contraindication for scuba diving. Surgeries which involve cutting the eye (as opposed to laser procedures) and surgeries for serious conditions such as glaucoma may weaken the strength of the eye. Consult a ophthalmologist before diving if you have had eye surgery for a serious eye condition.

Bi-Focals for Diving:

A diver who requires reading glasses to clearly distinguish small print (such as the numbers on a submersible pressure gauge) should be aware that small, stick-on magnifying lenses are available for scuba masks. Put one of these tiny lenses in the lower portion of a mask lens to create a bi-focal scuba mask!

The Take-Home Message About Scuba Diving with Poor Eyesight:

People with poor eyesight should have no trouble scuba diving. Soft contact lenses, prescription masks, and stick-in bifocal lenses can correct a diver's vision underwater. In most cases, a diver who has had corrective eye surgery may safely dive, provided he has confirmed with his doctor that his eyes have fully healed. Don't let poor eyesight stop you from seeing the underwater world!
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