With the new school year fast approaching, pediatric eye specialists from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and The Wilmer Eye Institute are offering advice on sports-related eye injuries that can easily be prevented, yet still occur all too frequently.

August is Children's Eye Health and Safety month and pediatricians are being advised to educate parents, coaches and young athletes about the dangers of eye injuries, urging them to wear protective goggles when they participate in sports, in particular for high-risk sporting activities, including fencing, boxing and ball sports, such as soccer, basketball, softball, lacrosse and baseball.

Pediatric ophthalmologist Michael X. Repka, M.D., from the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, who is also deputy director of ophthalmology at the Hopkins Children's Center explains:

"As training season begins, and as children resume practice, emergency rooms across the country may see an influx of eye injuries from sports - yet most if these injuries are highly preventable by wearing protective goggles."

According to experts, safety eyewear can prevent nine out of 10 injuries when worn consistently. Mild injuries like bruises to the eyelid and corneal abrasions usually only cause short-term damage unlike serious eye traumas, which can have lasting effects. High-impact injuries can cause internal bleeding or fracture the bones around the eye, which may need surgery.

Repka states: "Eye injuries at an early age can have serious and life-long consequences for the young athlete that go beyond missing a game or two and can sometimes lead to permanent eye damage and loss of vision."

In the U.S., eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children. According to the National Institutes of Health, most eye injuries in school-age children are sustained during sports. Each year, around 100,000 people sustain sports-related eye injuries; almost half of these are children. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of all eye traumas requiring hospitalization occur in children.

Experts state that protective eyewear includes safety glasses, goggles, shields and eye guards and that these offer adequate protection for most sports. However, regular prescription glasses do not, and all sports eyewear should be sports-specific. Children who need to wear prescription glasses can have their safety goggles custom-made to match the prescription.

Serious eye damage can be prevented by following these guidelines issued by the Hopkins experts:
  • Make your child wear protective eyewear during practice and games.
  • Consult an ophthalmologist or an optometrist to find the best type of protective glasses suited for a particular sport.
  • Take your child regularly for eye screenings and exams, if he or she has a problem.
If your child experiences any of the following, seek immediate medical attention:
  • Deep eye pain, pain behind the eyes and/or unexplained headaches
  • Cuts or punctures to the eye
  • Floaters or flashes in the field of vision or partial loss of vision. This could be a sign of possible retinal detachment
  • Redness, itching or irritation of the eyes
  • Swelling of the eye or the area around the eye
  • Discharge or excessive tearing in one or both eyes
Experts warn that you should never rub the affected eye and should not try to remove any splinters or objects that are stuck in the eye. Doing so may cause further damage, and specialists advise you to visit the emergency room instead.

Written by Petra Rattue