Fixing Underwater Vision Problems

Huge range of masks at The Scuba Doctor
Huge range of masks
at The Scuba Doctor
For those whose eyesight requires corrective measures, the prospect of diving — a primarily visual pastime — can be a little daunting. Proper diver safety also relies on keeping a keen eye on your buddy, your location and your gauges. But a lack of 20/20 vision is by no means a barrier to diving, as there are many options available to facilitate participation despite all manner of sight issues.

Many people with mild vision impairment don't need to take any corrective action, as objects in water are naturally magnified by 33 percent. But if corrective measures are needed, there are several methods of compensating for sight problems underwater, making for safer, more enjoyable dives.

Contact Lenses

One of the simplest ways to deal with poor eyesight is to wear contact lenses, just as you would on land. Certain precautions should be taken to minimise eye irritation and to prevent losing the contacts, but generally, diving with contacts is a safe and hassle-free solution.

The Diver's Alert Network (DAN) recommends using soft contact lenses for scuba rather than hard or gas-permeable ones, however, because increased pressure may cause hard lenses to suction to the eye, causing pain or discomfort. Hard contact lenses typically dry wearers' eyes out more too, resulting in redness and irritation upon surfacing.

Most importantly, soft lenses allow the nitrogen absorbed by the eye while diving to escape; hard lenses do not. Bubbles can form between the hard lens and the eye, causing blurred vision, which effectively negates the purpose of wearing the contacts in the first place.

Wearing contact lenses underwater also means keeping the eyes closed when performing any skills that require the flooding or removal of the mask. If you are enrolling in a scuba course, be sure to tell your instructor if you wear contacts so that he or she will allow you to keep your eyes closed during skills, and to wear a mask during surface water skills or swim tests.

Similarly, if you're using vision-correcting equipment, from contacts to a corrective lens or prescription mask, make sure to alert your buddy. If you should lose your mask underwater, your buddy needs to know that they'll need to help you find it.

In terms of comfort, even soft contact lens wearers often report some dryness as a result of diving; it's a good idea to bring lubricating drops with you to the site for use before and after diving. Rinsing lenses in fresh saline solution between dives can also minimise irritation from residual salt water; divers should consider using disposable contacts for live-aboard trips so that they can use fresh ones each day.

Corrective Eye Surgery

The most permanent alternative is corrective eye surgery, but it is imperative to consult an ophthalmologist before your first dive, after surgery, in order to respect the healing period. If not properly observed, the effects of pressure and trapped gas on an unhealed incision could be incredibly painful.

Corrective Lens Masks

There are alternatives to wearing contacts while diving for those who are squeamish about using them or simply prefer not to. Depending on the severity and type of eyesight issues, the lenses of some stock masks can be quickly and easily replaced with pre-made corrective lenses.

Dive mask with corrective lenses
Corrective lens mask: the mask, plus two separate correction lenses.
Supplied with the corrective lenses fitted, plus the original normal lenses.

Some of the masks with optional vision correcting lenses can be obtained with either a "-" dioptre (e.g. -1.5 to -8.0), or a "+" dioptre (e.g. +1.0 to +4.5), typically in 0.5 increments. Some divers require distance vision correction, that is, the diver is "near-sighted" and the Rx Sphere value is a "-" dioptre. Other divers require a "+" Rx Sphere value lens because they are "far-sighted".

At The Scuba Doctor we sell a lot of corrective lens masks and have a great selection of models to choose from whatever your budget. Please feel free to give us a call or consult our online dive shop for more information.

Bifocal Corrective Lens Masks

Finding the numerals on your gauge too small, especially in the dark? Finding you arm is not long enough, but have pretty good distance vision? If you answered yes to all the above, then you probably have presbyopia, a condition where the eye exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects with age. On the surface the fix is reading glasses (those things you always forget just when you need them most). Bright light also helps, as it constricts the pupils, and decreases spherical aberration. Some people use prescription bifocals, trifocals or multi-focal lenses.

Dive mask with bifocal lenses
Bifocal lens mask with gauge reading correction lenses.
Normal vision for top two thirds and "reading" (plus) correction for bottom third.
Supplied with the bifocal lenses fitted, plus the original normal lenses.

Under water the solution is a "Gauge Reader" mask which uses bifocal corrective lenses. These lenses are clear on top, but have a reading correction in the bottom third of the mask lens. This makes them great for reading gauges, camera settings etc.

We do not recommend adhesive magnifying patches, which are applied to a stock mask lens. Our customers very plainly tell us the after-market 'stick-on' solutions simply don't work well, and we don't bother selling them. For the corrective lens bifocal masks we sell, each of the lenses are ground just like you would expect on a pair of eyeglasses.

Prescription Lens Masks

For those with astigmatism or other, more extreme vision impairment, pre-made corrective lenses may not work sufficiently. Custom-made prescription masks are an option, wherein a mask is made specifically to your requirements. But it's very expensive.

The important thing here is to make sure that the person filling your prescription takes into consideration a variety of your needs. If you are a snorkeler you probably just need to see distance, therefore a distance only prescription should be fit in your mask. If you are a diver though, you may need both distance correction to see the underwater life and the near prescription to read you gauges, therefore, depending on your prescription, a true bifocal, or truncated, full prescription lens can be used.

Fortunately, most divers and snorkelers only need either negative distance correction lenses, or gauge reading corrective lenses — clear or planar on top and a lower pane with positive correction for reading.

Those who opt for prescription masks should consider purchasing two customised masks in case of loss or damage to one of them, as it can be exceptionally hard to find a replacement in many of the world's remote dive destinations.

Consult your Optometrist

We strongly recommend that you consult your optometrist about which underwater vision correction solution is best for you. Please feel free to show them this information, plus the more detailed information in the Prescription Lens Masks section of our online dive store. Your optometrist will be able to work out which solutions are available to you and make recommendations as to what to get.

Your optometrist will also be able to provide the full details you need to order a prescription lens mask. If you choose to go with a corrective lens mask, your optometrist will give you the best spherical correction dioptre values for your left and right eyes given the half dioptre increments of corrective lenses.

Recommended Optometrist:

Melbourne: David Glennie is an optometrist and experienced scuba diver. His team can check your eyes and translate your script into the values we need for your corrective lenses. They can even show you how it will work.

David Glennie, Karingal Optical
Shop 39, Karingal Hub, 330 Cranbourne Road, Frankston VIC 3199
Tel. 03 9789 4811   www.optometristfrankston.com.au

Whatever your preference, there are plentiful corrective options available to ensure that everyone can see clearly to experience the beauty and wonder of the underwater world.

The Scuba Doctor Service and Repairs