Why Does Seawater Sting Your Eyes?

Why does seawater sting your eyes? Learn about tears, osmosis, and eye tear composition causing stinging.

Why Does Seawater Sting Your Eyes?
Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

If you've ever taken a dip in the ocean, you might be familiar with the unpleasant burning sensation that lingers in your eyes afterward.

It's a common occurrence that has sparked curiosity about why this happens.

The answer lies in the composition of seawater and our tear fluid.

Salt Concentration Discrepancy

When we splash seawater into our eyes, the salt concentration in the water overtakes that of our tears.

This causes a rapid outflow of water from our eyes, leading to dehydration and a stinging sensation.

The phenomenon is an example of osmosis, where water flows from an area of lower solute concentration (our tears) to an area of higher solute concentration (seawater).

Osmotic Dehydration

The salty nature of seawater causes our tears to dehydrate, leading to the stinging sensation.

This explains why tears, with their lower salt concentration, do not cause the same discomfort when they come into contact with our eyes.

Similar Effects in Drinking Seawater

The same principle applies to drinking seawater.

Instead of hydrating the body, the high salt content in seawater triggers osmosis, resulting in a net loss of water.

This dehydration effect can exacerbate the feeling of thirst and further compromise the body's hydration levels.

Protective Mechanisms of Tears

Tears are essential for maintaining eye health.

They act as a protective barrier against debris and microorganisms, while also helping to nourish and lubricate the eyes.

Additionally, tears contain enzymes and antibodies that can help combat infections, making them a vital component of our ocular defense system.
Understanding the science behind the stinging sensation caused by seawater and its interaction with our tears provides insight into the complexities of osmosis and the importance of tear composition in maintaining eye comfort and health.

The next time you take a dip in the ocean, you can appreciate the protective mechanisms of your tears, safeguarding your eyes from the harsh effects of seawater.