Preventing Sports-Related Eye Injuries

Don’t let an eye injury sideline your child.

11 Facts on Eye Injuries

No one sets out for a sport expecting an eye injury, but in fact just a few preventive measures can make the difference. Learn some facts regarding sports-related eye injuries, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO):

1. An estimated 40,000 sports-related eye injuries occur each year in the United States.

2. About 90 percent of sports-related eye injuries are preventable.

3. One-third of the victims of sports-related eye injuries are children.

4. The most common injuries associated with sports are abrasions and contusions, detached retinas, corneal lacerations, cataracts, hemorrhages, and loss of an eye.

5. Baseball accounts for the largest number of eye injuries in children ages 5 to 14, at about 21 percent, while basketball is responsible for 28 percent of eye injuries in 15- to 24-year-olds. In baseball, most eye injuries are due to ocular contact with the ball. Batters are the most common victims, but pitchers and fielders also can be injured. In basketball, most eye injuries are due to eyes being poked by fingers and elbows.

6. Since 1990, Little League has recommended, but does not mandate, the use of protective facemasks. In 1993, the Dixie Youth Baseball Team mandated the use of polycarbonate face shields for all runners and batters. The coaches of the Dixie Youth Baseball Team, which includes Little League players in the South and Southwest, agree that the safety shields have not hindered the performance of the players when batting or catching. Since the rule has been enforced, no significant eye or face injuries have occurred to a player who was wearing the protective gear.

7. In Canada, ocular trauma decreased by 90 percent after certified full-face protectors attached to the headgear were made mandatory in organized amateur hockey.

8. In the NFL, facemasks fitted with shields that are specially contoured according to the player’s position prevent most eye injuries.

9. Paintball has become a popular sport worldwide, but has been associated with devastating eye injuries, including blindness.

10. Many celebrity athletes agree that eye protection is important and use protective eyewear themselves.

11. Polycarbonate lenses provide the best eye protection for many sports. They are lightweight, scratch resistant, thin, and can be designed to meet most eyewear designs or prescriptions. Polycarbonate is 10 times more impact-resistant than other plastics and can withstand the force of a .22-caliber bullet. Developed by the aerospace industry to use in the face shields (helmet visors) of Apollo astronauts, the material can also be found in bulletproof windows, airplane windows, space shuttles, and shields carried by riot police officers.

Sport by Sport

All athletes should wear protective eyewear, but not just any eyewear. Use protection specifically designed for the sport. Use the guide below to find out which kind of eye protection is necessary for the sport your child plays.

Baseball: Polycarbonate or wire face guard attached to helmet; sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses while on the field

Basketball: Sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses

Field hockey: Full face mask for the goalie; sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses/wire mesh goggles while on the field

Football: Polycarbonate eye shield attached to helmet with wire face mask

Ice hockey: Helmet with full face protection

Lacrosse: Helmet with full face protection or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses/wire mesh goggles

Paintball: Full-face-protection goggles — covering the cheeks, ears, and eyes — with eye protection lenses at least 1/10 inch thick

Racquet sports: Sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses

Skiing: High impact resistant eye protector

Other Tips

As well as using the appropriate eye-protection equipment for your child’s particular sport, follow these guidelines in making sure your child’s eyes stay safe and sound.

  • Make sure protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate material.
  • Don’t let your child wear contact lenses or ordinary glasses as a substitute for protective eyewear. Contact lenses and ordinary glasses offer no protection against eye injuries.
  • Consistently enforce the wearing of appropriate eye protection during sports activities, and set a good example by wearing eye protection yourself when playing sports.

For children with good vision in only one eye or a history of eye injury:

  • Functionally one-eyed athletes (those whose best-corrected visual acuity is worse than 20/40 in the poorer-seeing eye), or those who have had previous eye injury or surgery, should never participate in boxing or full-contact martial arts.
  • For sports in which a facemask or helmet with eye protector is required, functionally one-eyed athletes should also wear sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to ensure adequate protection. The helmet must fit properly, and have a chinstrap.

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