Mike's Mailbag: Finding the Right Fit Goggles

Mike's Mailbag: Finding the Right Fit Goggles

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, January 9, 2017

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers, coaches, parents, and swim people around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to answer.  

Dear Mike,

I am a 14-year old swimmer who has been having trouble finding a pair of goggles that work. Until I started swimming more than once a week, I used a variety of cheaper-brand goggles that worked fine for me because I didn’t over-use them, but when I started swimming for exercise (about two years ago) I began using a more expensive model. These worked well for about six months, and then the skin around my eyes where my goggles touch my face started swelling up and getting itchy and irritated every time I wore them, even if they weren’t on tightly.  Since then, I have never been able to wear a pair of these goggles without having this problem. 

I eventually gave up on those and started wearing a large, bulky mask whenever I went swimming.  The mask solved my problem because it did not touch the area around my eyes, but, unfortunately, its size makes it difficult to work with now that I’m on a swim team and it is absolutely impossible to do any type of start while wearing it.

When I started swim team this past fall, I switched from the mask (whew!) to a pair of different goggles, which were, without a doubt, the most comfortable goggles I’d ever owned.  However, after about three months of wearing them, my problem came back, even worse than before.  At present, itchy red, puffy skin around my eyes is normal for me. 

I’ve been to the doctor about this (twice) and have tried moisturizer, but it never goes away for long and it always comes back within a few days of getting rid of it.  I don’t want to stop swimming just because I can’t find a pair of goggles that doesn’t irritate my eyes, but I also don’t want to live out the rest of my life looking like I regularly soak my eyes in acid.  Are there any goggles made specifically for people with this problem?  Is there anything I can do to fix this issue or at least make it somewhat less severe?

“Goggle-eye Girl”


Hey Goggle Eye Girl,

I’m not a doctor so please — don’t take this advice in lieu of visiting a medical professional. Because it sounds like your issue has to do with a reaction your skin has either with a certain kind of material, the chlorine in the pool, or the friction that takes places between the goggle and your skin. Those are my three (un-educated) thoughts. It does sound like you should continue seeing a doctor, or see another doctor to get a medical opinion. Maybe someone from Speedo or any other goggle company is reading this and can chime in with some thoughts. 

So, again, I’m not a doctor so just take all this advice with a hefty grain of salt, but once I had the same problem as you. Not with goggles, but eye glasses. I bought these eye glasses that were gold plated metal. And I loved them — they were comfortable and great. But the second day I had them on, my eyes and entire face puffed up to the point where it looked like someone punched me flat in the face. I looked like a boxer who just got beat up. I couldn’t hardly recognize myself. It was like that scene in Harry Potter where they take that potion to change their faces — it was that puffy. 

I figured out that I was allergic to something in the gold or in the metal. Many people have these kinds of allergies, where they are allergic or at least sensitive to nickel or something in the metal frame. So I switched them for plastic glasses and haven’t had a problem since.

I’d play around with other kinds of goggles, the kind that maybe use different materials. I’m not sure if there is a specific goggle that is for sensitive skin, but maybe with the publication of this article, I could get some responses. At least go to your nearest store that sells goggles and try a few on, see if you can find other materials. Start there. 

For me, the Swedish-style goggles never presented a problem. It took a while for my face to get used to them — about three weeks — but once I was used to them, I never went back to goggles that used soft rubber or silicone or any other material against my face. 

Secondly, make sure the seal is tight around your eyes and no water is getting in. Sometimes my eyes get red and itchy as a reaction to chlorinated (and over-chlorinated) water. Make sure your goggles don’t leak at all. Also make sure the chlorine levels in your pool are where they are supposed to be. Sometimes over-chlorinated pools (or pools with lots of chloramines in them) can give me red eyes, itchy skin, or even make me break out in hives. 

Third, are you putting anything else on your face? Take a look at if you put on any sunscreen or make-up or moisturizer that might have some artificial ingredient you’re particularly sensitive to. 

Fourth, I would suggest you reach out directly to goggle manufacturers to talk about this issue. I’m sure they would have some advice and maybe they are more familiar with this issue than I am. Many have great customer service representatives and would be happy to help. 

Lastly, goggles are very difficult to find in the right fit. For me, it took several years of trying and adjusting and finding the right kind of goggle that didn’t leak, didn’t irritate my face, and stayed on during my dives. Goggles can be extremely personal equipment items and there is no perfect kind of goggle. I suggest you try out some of your teammates’ goggles — even just for  25 — to see what is comfortable and what doesn’t leak. You shouldn’t have to tighten your goggles so hard against your face that it makes your eyes pop out of your head. Goggles should be comfortable and fit and stay on for hours. 

I wouldn’t quit swimming over this. I know it can be frustrating, but again, take a look at everything going on — the things you apply to your face, the chlorine levels in your pool, the tension you put on your goggles and the materials of the goggles themselves. Talk to your doctor and if your doctor doesn’t know, consider getting a second opinion. Reach out to goggle representatives or customer service people at various goggle companies to talk about this issue — they may have seen this before or have some advice…. or maybe they’d even send you a free pair. 

I hope this helps.



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