Now that it’s October, we’ll be celebrating Eye Injury Prevention month, but before we do that, let’s look at another important subject: eye injuries in sports. Prevent Blindness America designates September as Sports Eye Safety Month.
When you step onto the football field, the baseball diamond, or the hockey rink, there’s probably a lot going through your head. Perhaps you’re remembering your plays, sizing up your opponents, or, if it’s a relaxed afternoon with friends, wondering where you’ll wind up at after the game.
One thing that might not cross your mind is whether the game could result in a serious eye injury. But what if you knew that sports-related eye injuries send 42,000 people to the ER every year? Or that they cause 13,500 people per year to go blind (Dang 2014)? You might get a little freaked out. Sorry about that.
The good news is that nearly every one of these injuries can be prevented by taking steps to protect your eyes (“Sports Eye Safety” 2016)! Read on to learn more about sports eye protection and to find out how easy it is to celebrate Sports Eye Safety Month all year.
From Baseball to Badminton
Not all sports pose the same risk to the eyes, but they all have their dangers. Getting hit with a ball or a puck isn’t the only risk. Trauma to the eye caused by impact from other players or equipment is also a common cause of injury.
Across all age groups, eye injuries occur most frequently in baseball, basketball, and racquet sports. Basketball has one of the highest rates of eye injuries and most are caused by players being jabbed and struck by flailing fingers and elbows (Heiting 2015). Other sports that mix flying objects with frequent contact, such as lacrosse, hockey, and soccer, are also dangerous.
It’s the norm for racquetball players to use protective goggles, as the sport poses such obvious eye risks—balls routinely fly at between 60 and 200 miles per hour. At the same time, the players are maneuvering around a small room with one another while swinging a racquet (Heiting 2015).
Fighting sports, such as boxing and martial arts, pose higher risks of serious—and even blinding—injuries to the eyes. While thumbless gloves might lower the risk of eye injuries in boxing, there is no sufficient eye protection available for the sport (Turbert 2016). In a case like this, it’s best to pay close attention to any injuries and to seek medical treatment quickly when necessary.
Yes, even badminton.
While some sports present more obvious opportunities for injury, don’t forget that the fast pace, unpredictability, and unwieldy equipment of almost any sport can lead to an eye injury.
Tennis and badminton pose similar risks to racquetball, though to a lesser degree. Water and pool activities cause a large number of eye injuries (Heiting 2015). Even the great, and often meditative, pastime of fishing causes more eye injuries than you might expect (Turbert 2016). None of this information is meant to deter you from your favorite sports, but hopefully, it’s eye-opening (wink!) enough to cause you to consider protection.
Equipping the Eyes
Properly protecting the eyes during sports not only makes them safer, it might ultimately make them a lot more fun. After all, watching half the basketball game through one eye from the bleachers or, even worse, spending it in the ER, is no way to enjoy your leisure time.
It’s a good idea to always wear a tough plastic helmet with a face mask or wire shield in sports such as football, baseball, ice hockey, and lacrosse. Look for helmets made of polycarbonate, which is a very strong and lightweight plastic that is designed not to shatter (Turbert 2016).
Proper protective eyewear is the best line of defense against eye injuries in sports. Here are a few tips and facts regarding eyewear (Dang 2014, “Sports Eye Safety” 2016, Heiting 2015):
- Don’t wear glasses – Prescription glasses, sunglasses, and even safety goggles don’t cut it. In fact, they can make things worse because most lenses can shatter and end up in your eye upon impact.
- Go polycarbonate – The same shatterproof material used for helmets is used for lenses as well. It’s the material of choice because it’s impact resistant and offers UV protection.
- Choose the right tool for the job – Most sports and physical activities have specific eyewear designed for them. Make sure you choose the option with the features you need.
- Look into prescription lenses – Nearly all sports frames can be fitted with prescription lenses, so there’s no need to sacrifice your sight for your safety.
- Go for the gold! – …the gold standard, that is. Make sure your eyewear is ASTM F803 approved. This indicates the product has been tested for the highest level of protection.
Going Beyond the Goggle
The best way to protect yourself from eye injuries is with the proper equipment, but there are a few other precautions for you and your family to take before ever stepping onto the field.
Consulting with a doctor
It can be a good idea to consult with a doctor before joining a sport in order to find out about specific risks and whether your vision poses any barriers. This is especially true if you already experience reduced vision in one eye (Turbert 2016).
Reacting to an eye injury
For even a mild injury to the eye, it’s advised that you see a doctor immediately. Don’t try to treat the injury yourself. In the case of eyes, something that may seem minor can wind up causing serious problems if left untreated.
Following an injury, don’t touch or apply pressure to the eye, don’t attempt to remove an object stuck in the eye, and don’t try to apply any ointment or medication (Turbert 2016).
Keeping an eye on kids
Eye Safety for Kids!
Read more about keeping children’s eyes safe at home and on the field in our post on Children’s Eye Health: Looking out for Eye Safety
Watching out for kids’ safety in sports starts before they even put on their cleats. Make sure you are enrolling your child in a sports league run by a reputable organization that provides adult supervision at all times. Don’t be afraid to ask a coach about the kind of first aid situations for which they are prepared (“Support Children’s Sports…” 2016).
Leave It All on the Field!
We’ve always known that sports pose a risk to our health, but those risks don’t stop us from enjoying the thrill of competing. What might stop you, though, is a serious injury to the eye. Now that you know the risks and the steps to take to avoid such an injury, hopefully, you can be even more confident, focused, and poised for victory. Or at least you know you’re more likely to make it safely to the post-game pizza party. And that’s a victory in itself.
- Dang, Shirley. “Sports Eye Injuries by the Numbers — Infographic.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2014.
- “Sports Eye Safety.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.
- Heiting, Gary, OD. “Protective Sports Eyewear.” All About Vision. 2015.
- Turbert, David. “Eye Health in Sports and Recreation.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2016.
- “Support Children’s Sports Safety in Your Community.” Prevent Blindness. 2016.