It’s a busy carpool day with the kids’ sports practice. Packing safety gear competes with dropping each at practice on time. Your high schooler’s got his bucket helmet for lacrosse. Your middle schooler’s excited to wear her new shin guards to soccer. For your fifth grader, however, you’ve not yet invested in those “rec specs” protective glasses the baseball coach wants all team members to wear for eye injury prevention on the field. It’s better not to miss practice today; add the protective eyewear to the shopping list for next week.
Eye injuries routinely occur in adult recreational, college and pro sports leagues. As involvement in sports begins at increasingly younger ages and higher levels, however, the highest numbers overall are found among youth (ages < 18) athletes — males (60%) and females (67%).*
Ninety percent of the 30,000+ sports-related eye injuries that annually occur in the U.S. could be avoided if protective eyewear were worn. As early spring draws Americans of all ages outdoors to play organized sports, the American Association of Ophthalmology (AAO) recognizes April as Sports Eye Safety Month. This month, the AAO identifies a range of sports involving a higher risk of ocular trauma, as well as preventive practices that are the greatest safeguards to counter the risk of injury inherent to all sports.
- Compliance is challenging and excuses run the gamut. “Sports goggles are cumbersome … they compromise my peripheral vision on the field … mine fog up when I wear them.” Protective eyewear has vastly improved over years of rising attention paid to injury prevention in sports. Wearing protective eyewear consistently is more assured when parents start kids early and adults adopt the practice for themselves.
- Know whether your sport carries a higher risk of eye injuries.
Basketball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in the U.S. Boxing and full-contact martial arts pose an extremely high risk of serious, even blinding eye injuries. Activities involving projectiles pose the greatest risk for temporary or permanent loss of eyesight. The AAO recommends shatterproof plastic protective glasses called polycarbonate lenses for a range of mainstream sports such as basketball, tennis, racquet ball, soccer and field hockey.
- Athletes who wear contacts or glasses should still wear eye protection. Contacts and regular eyeglasses are no substitute for the recommended protective eyewear for sports associated with risk of eye injuries.
- Spectators at sporting events are also at risk. The odds of ocular trauma for spectators are far lower than for players; nonetheless, they exist. Misdirected or off-course flying balls and/or projectiles can end up in the stands at any time. Keep your eyes on the game and watch the movement of fast-flying baseballs, tennis balls, soccer balls, and ice hockey pucks.
- Sports-related concussions can impact vision. Concussions in contact sports can cause temporary or long-lasting damage to eyesight. Many of those affected don’t allow ample time for recovery and return to the field too soon. An on-the-field visual test that helps with concussion diagnosis also benefits eye specialists who need to evaluate the negative impacts of a concussion on a patient’s eyesight.
The sports world spotlight remains on head and other musculoskeletal trauma as the most common type of athletic injury treated by a dedicated discipline (sports medicine). Nonetheless, among blunt force injuries that cause serious to severe outcomes, sports-related ocular trauma remains highly under-recognized.
UNC Ophthalmology advocates prevention as the wisest approach to protecting the eyesight of active adults and youth. Our highly trained eye specialists treat ocular trauma via medical and/or surgical approaches, working with patients post-injury to determine a proper recovery timeline for a safe return to sports play. As you prepare for the next league season to start, visit or call the UNC Optical Shop (984-974-2039) for assistance in choosing the recommended protective sports eyewear.
* Haring RS, Sheffield ID, Canner JK, Schneider EB. Epidemiology of Sports-Related Eye Injuries in the United States. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016;134(12):1382–1390. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.4253