Simple Steps to Prevent Eye Injuries in Sports

Written by Dr. David Geier, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

Most athletes think of knee and shoulder problems when we talk about sports-related injuries. With fall sports in full swing, it is important to remember that eye injuries in sports are not only common, but they are potentially very serious.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, sports account for approximately 100,000 eye injuries each year. Roughly 42,000 of those injuries require evaluation in emergency departments. In fact, a patient with a sports-related eye injury presents to a United States emergency room every 13 minutes. It is estimated that sports-related eye injuries cost between $175 million and $200 million per year.

Generally baseball, basketball and racquet sports cause the highest numbers of eye injuries. One of every three of these eye injuries in sports occurs in children. In kids between the ages of five and 14, baseball is the leading cause. Basketball is a common culprit in athletes aged 15 and older. And boxing and martial arts present a high risk for serious eye injuries.

These eye injuries can be mild ones, but serious injuries like orbital fractures, corneal abrasions and detached retina can occur. Approximately 13,500 people become legally blind from sports-related eye injuries every year.

Fortunately the American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that 90% of eye injuries are preventable. October is Eye Injury Prevention Month, so athletes should remember these simple tips to avoid serious eye damage in sports:

  • Wear appropriate eye protection, especially in basketball, racket sports, field hockey and soccer. In baseball, ice hockey and men’s lacrosse, an athlete should wear a helmet with a polycarbonate shield. Polycarbonate lenses are believed to be 10 times more resistant to impact than other materials. All protective eyewear should comply with American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) standards.
  • Wear additional protective eyewear, if you wear contact lenses or glasses. Contacts offer no protection against impacts to the eye. Glasses and sunglasses do not provide adequate protection and could shatter upon impact, increasing the danger to the eye.
  • Wear eye protection for all sports if you are functionally one-eyed, meaning one eye has  normal vision and the other is less than 20/40 vision
  • Inspect protective eyewear regularly and replace when it appears worn or damaged.

Last, if an eye injury does occur, every athlete should consider going to an emergency department or consulting an ophthalmologist. Even a seemingly minor injury can actually be potentially serious and lead to loss of vision.

Remember, 90% of sports-related eye injuries can be prevented. Let’s start taking steps to eliminate these injuries.