More Than 40,000 People a Year Suffer Eye Injuries While Participating in Sports

Armen Hareyan's picture

Protecting Eyes and Vision

As summer rolls in this year and you head outside to participate in those outdoor sports you love, take a minute and protect your eyes. According to Prevent Blindness America, more than 40,000 people a year suffer eye injuries while participating in a sporting activity.

"Although basketball leads to the most sports eye injuries in this country, baseball is the summer sport with the most injuries," says Culver Boldt, M.D., UI Hospitals and Clinics ophthalmologist and co-director of the Eye Injury Registry of Iowa. "Together, about a third of all sports eye injuries occur in these sports. Swimming and pool sports are next, followed by racquet and court sports, then football, soccer, and golf.

"Many of these eye injuries are caused by getting poked in the eye with a finger. Larger balls, such as basketballs, can't fit into the eye socket, so they are less likely to damage to eyeball itself. But smaller balls, like baseballs, can hit the eyeball directly, and transmit a lot of force to the globe. And golf balls, because of their small size and high velocity, often cause devastating eye injuries."

Boldt says the best way to reduce the chances of a sports-related eye injury is to wear protective eyewear. Studies show that individuals who wear protective eyewear can reduce the likelihood of sustaining a significant eye injury by 90 percent.

"It would be ideal if everyone wore appropriate eye protection for sports activities. However, I strongly recommend that all athletes who are functionally one-eyed wear appropriate eye protection during all sports activities. Functionally one-eyed athletes are those with visual acuity, despite wearing glasses, which cannot be corrected to better than 20/40 in their poorer-seeing eye.

"In functionally one-eyed people, a severe injury in the better-seeing eye would be life changing," says Boltd. "In many states, the person could no longer obtain a driver's license. Also, in some people, certain eye diseases make eyes especially vulnerable to injury. For example, a moderately nearsighted person has 10 times greater chance of developing a retinal detachment following eye trauma, when compared to a person who is not nearsighted.

"Another group at higher risk for sports injuries is children. Because of their fearless manner of play and their athletic immaturity, children are particularly susceptible to sports injuries. There are several good studies that show that eye injuries were markedly reduced in baseball and hockey youth leagues that mandated appropriate protective eyewear."


The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology publish sports-specific recommendations for protective eyewear. "For example, for a sport with a low risk for eye trauma, such as singles tennis, sturdy street-wear frames are adequate," Boldt says. "However, for a high-risk sport like ice hockey, a helmet and full face protection is recommended.

"For some sports, such as full-contact martial arts, protection is not permitted in the sport. Participation in these sports is contraindicated for functionally one-eyed athletes. Eyewear should be made with highly shatter-resistant polycarbonate or Trivex lenses. There are well-established national standards to which the eyewear and lenses should comply," Boldt says. "All protective sports eyewear should have lenses in the frames. If you need prescription glasses, the prescription can be placed in the frames. If you are highly nearsighted, it is sometimes better to wear your contact lenses, and then to wear protective eyewear with nonprescription polycarbonate lenses over the contacts."

Children grow quickly and Boldt says that once the frame no longer fits a child's face, the ability of the glasses to protect against sports trauma decreases. The frames rarely need to be replaced every year, but parents must remember to change the lenses for a child's sports protective eyewear when their prescription for their regular glasses changes.

"If you do not need prescription lenses to see well, you can obtain protective eyewear for some sports, such as racket ball, at sporting goods stores. However, if the frames do not fit your face, or are not made of the proper material, they may not be effective. Generally, sports-specific protective eyewear should be fit by an eye care professional that is knowledgeable in sports eyewear. I'd recommend you talk with one before spending your money," says Boldt.

You can find more information about sports-specific eyewear visit Prevent Blindness America. For a more extensive list, could contact Sue Rath at 319-356-3185.


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