Eye protection is key to preventing sports eye injuries

April 6, 2021

By: Reecha Bahl, M.D., Wayne Health Department of Opthalmology

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, nearly 40,000 sports and recreation-related eye injuries occur each year, with nearly half of these causing permanent vision loss. One-third of these injuries occur in school-aged children. The good news is that 90% of these injuries could be prevented with the use of appropriate protective eyewear.

April is Sports Eye Safety Month, a good time to be reminded of the importance of taking steps to protect your eyes from injury.

The leading causes of sports-related eye injuries in the United States are basketball, followed by baseball, softball, airsoft rifles (nerf guns), pellet (BB) guns, racquetball and hockey. All of these sports can lead to injuries damaging the front of the eye, including scratches to the front of the eye (corneal abrasion) and eye-bleeding or inflammation.

Other eye injuries are more sport-specific. For example, basketball and baseball players are at risk of orbital fractures, as the larger balls used in these sports usually hit the orbital bones first. Injuries from BB gun pellets, on the other hand, tend to cause more significant penetrating injuries and damage the back layers of the eye, like the retina. Boxing and full-contact martial arts have a particularly high level of risk for serious eye injury and permanent vision loss.

Appropriate eye protection for sports and recreation activities is the key to preventing sports-related eye injuries. Regular eyeglasses are not enough. Protective eyewear made from shatter-resistant material like polycarbonate provides the highest level of protection.

Sports such as ice hockey and men’s lacrosse may require more significant protection, including a helmet with a face mask or wire shield. When looking for eye protection, select devices that have been tested to meet the American Society of Testing and Materials standards, or have been approved by other entities, such as the Hockey Equipment Certification Council or the Canadian Standards Association.

Additionally, if you already have reduced vision in one eye, consider whether it is worth the risk of injuring your good eye by participating in a high-risk sport.

In preparation for sports activities, check with your ophthalmologist about how best to protect your eyes.

If you or your child receives an eye injury, seek immediate medical attention with an ophthalmologist, primary care doctor or emergency physician. Delay in care can lead to vision loss that lasts a lifetime!

Wayne Health ophthalmologists are highly experienced at treating and managing a full spectrum of eye conditions, from simple to complex. Wayne Health ophthalmologists are faculty members of the Wayne State University School of Medicine, who practice at the internationally renowned Kresge Eye Institute (KEI) with locations throughout metro Detroit. To set up an appointment with a Wayne Health ophthalmologist near you, visit our website or call 877-929-6342.

Eye protection is key to preventing sports eye injuries
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