Kids playing ice hockey

Protect your eyes from sports injuries

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April is Sports Eye Safety Month. During these times of social distancing, we are no longer playing sports with our teams or in large groups. However, it’s still important to protect your eyes when polishing up on your skills at home – and to get ready to play more competitively when we return to our “normal” routines.

More than 40 percent of eye injuries that occur every year are related to sports or recreational activities. In fact, tens of thousands of sports and recreation-related eye injuries bring players and spectators to the emergency department annually. The estimated annual cost associated with sports eye injuries in the U.S. is $175M-$200M.

Three sports account for almost half of all eye injuries: basketball, baseball and air/paintball guns. In fact, basketball is the leading cause of injury in males, followed by baseball/softball and air/paintball guns. Baseball or softball is the leading cause among females, followed by cycling and soccer. And serious and even blinding eye injuries can occur during boxing and martial arts.

The good news is that 90 percent of serious eye injuries are preventable through the use of protective eyewear. So be sure to use the right kind of eyewear, depending on your sport.

Many injuries result from either not wearing any eye protection, or not using the right kind of eye protection. These include corneal abrasions (scratches on the cornea); an inflamed iris; blood in the eye; traumatic cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye); detached retina; and a fractured eye socket. In addition to being painful, these injuries can result in permanent damage, including blindness.

Follow these tips to save your vision:

  • Wear the right eye protection: For basketball, racquet sports, soccer and field hockey, wear protection with shatterproof polycarbonate lenses.
  • Put your helmet on: For baseball, ice hockey and lacrosse, wear a helmet with a face mask or wire shield that includes polycarbonate. Hockey face masks should be approved by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
  • Know the standards: Choose eye protection that meets American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards.
  • Throw out old gear: Eye protection should be replaced when damaged or yellowed with age. Wear and tear may cause them to become weak and lose effectiveness.
  • Don’t rely on your glasses: Know that prescription glasses, sunglasses and even occupational safety glasses do not provide adequate protection when playing sports and may shatter when hit by flying objects. If you wear glasses, try sports goggles on top of them.

Other safety suggestions

Be careful during activities or games involving projectiles and other sharp objects that could create injury if in contact with the eye.

If you already have reduced vision in one eye, consider whether it’s worth the risk of injuring your good eye before participating in a high-risk sport. Check with your eye care provider to see what appropriate eye protection is available and whether participating in high impact sports is advised.

Spectators at sporting events should also be careful. Balls, bats, and players can end up in the stands at any time. Keep your eyes on the game and watch out for foul balls and flying objects.

Most importantly, remember that good vision is important for both safety and good performance. If you can’t see that ball coming at you, it may miss the bat and hit your face instead. So be sure to get that annual eye exam and ask your eye care provider what you should do to protect your eyes while you’re at play.

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