Every year an estimated 30,000 Americans go to the emergency room for sports-related eye injuries. While many of these injuries are serious, most can be prevented with the correct eyewear and precautions. Learning a few basic eye injury prevention strategies will allow patients to enjoy their favorite sports or recreational activities and ensure the safety of their vision.
While patients can sustain eye injuries in activities such as yard work, firework displays and more, a recent study found that basketball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries. Between 1990 and 2012, basketball caused an estimated 16% of eye injuries among children.
Additionally, baseball, softball, airsoft rifles, pellet guns, racquetball, and hockey are responsible for many sports-related eye injuries. Most injuries sustained in these activities are preventable with the proper eyewear.
Combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) can also cause serious damage to the eye. Unlike activities such as basketball and baseball, there is no satisfactory eye protection for combat sports — although boxers may be able to prevent eye injuries by using thumbless gloves.
Patients can sustain a variety of sports-related eye injuries that vary in severity. Eye injuries in sports typically fall into one of three categories:
Occur when there is a forceful impact between an object and the eye. These are the most common type of eye injuries in sports. They include black eyes, orbital fractures, rupture globes, and retinal detachment.
Occur when an object cuts the eye. These injuries are less common but can occur when shattered lenses, fishing hooks, or human fingernails scrape or scratch the eye.
These are eye-related injuries caused by the sun. They occur when patients engage in activities with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight rays. Patients who ski and participate in water activities are especially susceptible to these injuries.
Eye injuries in sports are common but preventable. By becoming aware of the precautions available, patients can avoid most sports-related eye injuries.
Eye injury prevention starts with protective eyewear. It is estimated that 90% of sports-related eye injuries can be prevented with the use of the appropriate eyewear. To guarantee eye safety, athletes of all types should wear some sort of protective eyewear.
For full protection, eyewear must meet the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) standards. Approved eyewear such as polycarbonate lenses can help against serious impact. All protective eyewear should fit securely over both eyes while allowing the use of a helmet and other safety gear.
Prescription glasses, sunglasses, and occupational safety glasses are insufficient for eye injury prevention during physical activity. In certain cases, glasses pose additional risks, as broken lenses can lodge or scratch the patient's eye.
For the most protection, patients should stick to approved ASTM eyewear and avoid glasses they use for leisure activities.
Certain sports like football, lacrosse, and hockey require athletes to wear a polycarbonate face mask or wire shield. Patients should wear face shields or masks approved by the regulatory committee of their sport.
For further eye injury prevention, patients should supplement helmets and shields with protective eyewear. Shields alone cannot protect the eyes from being scratched or poked by equipment or an opponent's finger.
UV rays from the sun can cause eye-related conditions such as photokeratitis — burns and sharp pain in the corneas — pinguecula, pterygium, and cataracts. Patients can prevent these injuries by wearing hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Patients can also avoid sun-related injuries by finding shade to play in or bringing their own shaded equipment to minimize the effects of the sun.
Prevention is always the best course of action. However, there are several steps patients can take if they receive an eye injury while playing sports.
To prepare for injuries, athletes should carry a fully stocked first aid kit with them while participating in their activity of choice. The kit should have up-to-date provisions, including eye-specific supplies such as eyewash and a rigid eye shield.
If you suspect you have a serious injury, seek immediate attention from an eye doctor. Even minor injuries can worsen without proper care — and severe injuries can lead to vision loss or blindness.
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