Give Your Eyes a Sporting Chance

4 min read  |  October 31, 2018  | 

Make proper eye protection part of the uniform, no matter what your game.

It’s not that hard to do.

We wear helmets for biking, kneepads on skates, shin guards in soccer, and mouth guards in hockey and football and boxing and more. But when it comes to protecting our weepers, not so much.

And we should.

The statistics are, well, eye-popping.

Sports-related eye injuries cause an estimated 100,000 doctor visits a year. Nearly half of them begin in the ER — about one every 13 minutes, according to the National Eye Institute. And, probably no big surprise here, most involve kids.


The simple solution is protective eyewear. But not enough people — little or big — make it a part of their game plan.

Part of the problem, says Dr. Natalie Ann Townsend, an optometrist at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and member of UHealth Sports Performance & Wellness Institute, is that kids “don’t want to wear glasses. It’s not cool to wear protective eyewear.” Part is that parents — who, as one who’s been there knows, are probably exhausted from getting on their kids about homework and cleaning their rooms, and … — don’t insist. Part is that sports programs don’t require eye protection.

In short, we tell them to keep their eye on the ball, but we don’t tell them to put some protection between their eye and the ball. And, let’s admit it, they don’t see us doing it either.

But it works. Eye injuries dropped by more than two-thirds among high school field hockey players after eye protection became mandatory.

Types of injuries

The smaller and faster an object is moving, generally means the worse it is for the eye. A golf ball coming off Tiger Woods’ driver, or a hockey puck off of Bobby Orr’s stick is usually going to be more serious than a beachball popped in the air by a 3-year-old kid.

A paintball hitting the eye? Yowch!

But fingers and elbows (I’m looking at you, Shaq!) can be just as bad.

The top three sports-related injuries, Dr. Townsend says, involve bumps, jabs, and stabs:

  • Blunt trauma — think elbows and direct hits.
  • Corneal abrasions and lacerations— pokes and scrapes with fingers, or a low-hanging branch on the mountain bike trail.
  • Penetration injuries — a stick, a sharp fingernail, or, yuck, a fishing hook.

The right eye protection

Sunglasses and your prescription glasses can cause more harm than good, Dr. Townsend says.

“Usually street glasses or sunglasses that you purchased over the counter have plastic lenses,” she says. “So they can shatter more easily if there’s impact to the lens.”

The best protection Dr. Townsend says, are impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses. Those are the ones generally recommended in organized sports. They don’t look any different from regular plastic lenses and may even be thinner and lighter. Most important, though, she says, “They will not shatter with significant impact.”

If it happens anyway

Even then, accidents happen. You, or little Billy or Sarah, may need a doctor. How do you know?

“If you have any changes in your vision, redness, pain or discomfort, floaters, sensitivity to light, double vision or an area of vision that you’re not able to see, or if you’re unable to open your eye you should see an eye care provider immediately,” says Dr. Townsend. “The quicker you are evaluated and receive treatment, then, usually, the better the outcome.

“When you wait for a long period of time, things can get infected or inflamed. That can cause more problems.”

It comes down to this: if you look out for your eyes, then they’ll look out for you.

Tags: Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Dr. Natalie Ann Townsend, eye protection, sports injury

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