As millions take to the playing field this spring, the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons warns the public that thousands of people are blinded by sports-related eye injuries. In support of Sports Eye Safety Month this April, the American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds coaches, parents and athletes of the importance of wearing eye protection - whether for Little League or the Majors.
Of the 100,000 eye injuries resulting from sports each year, an estimated 42,000 people are treated in the emergency room, and 13,500 end up legally blind. In fact, according to a January 2014 study of consumer product related injuries requiring emergency room treatment, sports equipment - including balls, bats, and rackets - was responsible for:
- 41 percent of emergency room visits for children age 10 to 14.
- 25 percent of emergency room visits for people age 15 to 24.
- 20 percent of emergency room visits for children age 5 to 9.
- In addition to injuries from sports equipment, many also suffer eye injuries caused by another player's errant finger or elbow to the eye.
Eye injuries resulting from athletic activities range from corneal abrasions (scratches on the surface of the eye) to the more serious, potentially blinding injuries, such as an orbital fracture (bones around the eye are broken) and detached retina (when the light sensitive lining at the back of the eye is pulled out of place). Fortunately, 90 percent of eye injuries are preventable by wearing protective eyewear.
EyeSmart®, the American Academy of Ophthalmology's public education program, provides the following sight-saving tips about sports-related eye protection:
- Youth who play sports should wear appropriate eye protection, such as polycarbonate lenses or masks, that meets the requirements of the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) - even if the league does not officially require it.
- People who wear contacts or glasses should also wear appropriate protective eyewear, as contacts offer no protection and glasses are not sufficient protection since lenses may shatter when hit by a projectile.
- To preserve the vision they have left, all functionally one-eyed athletes - those with one normal eye and the other eye with less than 20/40 vision, even when corrected with glasses or contacts - should wear appropriate eye protection for all sports.
- Functionally one-eyed athletes and those who have had an eye injury or surgery should not participate in boxing or full-contact martial arts because of the high risk of additional serious injury that could lead to blindness.
- For sports in which a facemask or helmet with eye protector or shield must be worn, such as football and lacrosse, it is strongly recommended that functionally one-eyed athletes also wear sports goggles that conform to the requirements of ASTM F803.
- Sports eye protection should be replaced when damaged or yellowed with age, as they may have become weakened and are no longer protective.
"Every year I treat dozens of kids with eye injuries from sports, especially at the beginning of the season," said Rahul N. Khurana, M.D., ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Whether they get a finger in the eye, or are slammed in the face with an errant ball, all are injuries that could have been easily avoided with safety goggles. Spending a little money on goggles could make a big difference in preventing a life-long eye injury."
Learn more about how to protect eyes while enjoying athletic activities by visiting www.geteyesmart.org.