This blog considers whether Libre sensors can be worn for swimming and water activities and if so, is there a limit of 30 minutes?
A frequent concern to Libre wearers is the issue of getting the sensor wet. Whether it’s in a hot tub, in a spa, in the sea, on water rides, playing water sports or any other water activity.
The Freestyle Libre instructions state:
“Your sensor is water-resistant and can be worn while bathing, showering or swimming.
Do NOT take your Sensor deeper than 1 metre (3 feet) or immerse it in water for longer than 30 minutes. “
Here, we explain these limits and what your options are when participating in water activities.
Is a Libre sensor waterproof?
Libre sensors are water-resistant to IP67 standard, but this isn’t waterproof. The two terms do not mean the same thing.
The manufacturer has only tested the sensor to the standard to meet this international rating. It confirms that the sensor is able to withstand being immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time i.e. to a depth of 1m for a period of 30 minutes. In addition, tests only give a level of water-resistance in pure water when the object is static.
This does not mean that Libre sensors have been tested and determined as suitable for wearing in a swimming pool or the sea, when movement adds to the forces on the sensor. Heat from hot tubs or jacuzzies may also put different pressures on the sensor and adhesive which may also affect its ability to function correctly. These conditions have not been tested by the manufacturer.
In fact, there’s no such thing as ‘waterproof’ as all materials will be penetrable at some point - it’s just depends on the conditions.
NOTE: THE LIBRE READER IS NOT WATER-RESISTANT OR WATERPROOF AT ALL AND SHOULD BE KEPT AWAY FROM WATER AT ALL TIMES.
What could happen if I stay in the water for too long?
There are 2 main risks in terms of the sensor if you exceed the 30 minutes or swim deeper than 1 metre.
Firstly there’s the adhesion of the sensor to the skin or where the sensor is attached to the sticky film itself. The first of these is the more likely issue for sensor wearers as the body has many contours that mean sensors are not lying completely flat on the skin and so if the glue weakens it could loosen the contact between skin and sensor.
Secondly there’s the functionality of the sensor that could be affected by prolonged immersion in water. This is less likely but this does happen in some instances.
What factors will affect the sensor in water?
One factor that may affect this is heat. So, whilst you can wear a sensor in a hot tub, prolonged time in the water may mean that the glue weakens and the sensor falls off.
Another problem that you may experience is when movement adds to the forces on the sensor. The viscosity of the water on the sensor may cause it to loosen or come off, for example when doing water sports or sliding down a water chute.
A third factor is the presence of chemicals in the water. As we’ve mentioned, the IP67 standard is where the product is tested in pure water so does not take into account the ‘real-world’ conditions we’re likely to encounter when swimming and other related activities.
Any activity that dries out the skin – like enjoying an evening in the hot tub - can affect the adhesion of a sensor!
Can I make it waterproof?
Many of us find the limitations set by the manufacturer as too restrictive and it’s a common question to ask “how can I make the sensor waterproof” so to be able to swim for longer or do other water activities.
There are an assortment of suggestions online to resolve the issue. Popular ideas are tapes, patches and plasters. But, these usually have breathable qualities and even if water-resistant, the sensor will still come into contact with some water which could affect the adhesion, even if not immediately obvious.
When covering a sensor with tape or patch it's likely that small amounts of water will get underneath and erode the adhesion between the sensor and the skin, not to mention the likelihood that the tape or patch will start to peel and look unsightly. A sensor's functionality could also be affected by water 'trapped' under the tape or patch and it may it stop giving accurate readings.
What other options are there to protect the sensor when swimming?
Wearing a Libreband will help to protect a sensor from the friction caused by swimming and being in water, such as in a hot tub. The cover and neoprene armband are themselves water resistant. However, the product does not provide any additional waterproof protection to the Libre sensor as it's just not possible, but the ability to remove the band means that it the skin is able to dry naturally and reduces the likelihood of adhesion problems. Librebands also dry quickly and can be worn again many times!
Many Libreband customers including competitive athletes, have worn the armband for swimming and water activities and have found it helpful for protection and in giving them confidence in water whilst wearing a sensor, especially when doing so for an extended period.
What if I’m wearing a transmitter eg. MiaoMiao or Bubble?
If your wearing a 3rd party products with your Libre then you may need additional support when swimming or participating in water activities. Our Libreband+ range of armbands can help with keeping them in position.
What else can I do?
When wearing a Libre sensor, it’s important to keep hydrated so that the body works as efficiently as possible and this is especially true when swimming and being active in water. To avoid the effects of dehydration you should keep up your water consumption, during activities and afterwards too. It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of water on the poolside for this reason.
Another tip is to moisturise as soon as you can after you have finished your activity. This can help to keep moisture from evaporating and prevent the skin from drying out.
Wearing a sensor for longer than the stipulated 30 minutes does mean that the sensor is not being used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and could therefore invalidate the warranty. But many wearers do swim for longer than 30 minutes and go deeper than 1 metre, without any problems, and this includes long distance swimmers and lifeguards too.
Although there are products available that advertise they are ‘waterproof’ it is more likely that they mean water-resistant and using a tape or covering will not ‘waterproof’ the sensor itself. However, covering it such as with a Libreband may help to reduce the likelihood of it being knocked or falling off. Below are some reviews we’ve received mentioning swimming with a Libreband.
Below are some reviews we’ve received mentioning swimming with a Libreband.
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Love My Libre is not associated or affiliated with Abbott or FreeStyle Libre. Content here and on our website www.lovemylibre.com does not constitute medical advice or replace the relationship between you and healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.
The author of this blog is a type 1 diabetic and user of the FreeStyle Libre 1 which is provided on NHS prescription.
FreeStyle Libre is a registered trademark of Abbott Diabetes Care Inc.