Sports Eye Safety; How Sports Could Compromise Your Vision

Overview of sports eye safety

Every year, the emergency departments across the United States receives around 30,000 cases of sports-related eye injuries

Athletes are susceptible to vision problems that could drive them away from the game for a long time, and in some cases, lead to irreversible damage. One of the reasons that explains the high incidence of sports eye injuries is the lack of awareness of athletes about the seriousness of this issue. Most athletes focus on avoiding musculoskeletal injuries and completely ignore the sports eye safety aspect.

However, it is even worse for amateurs who organize friendly games of basketball, football, or soccer. These individuals are susceptible to severe injuries due to the lack of guidance by their coaches and doctors.

Fortunately, the vast majority of these cases can be prevented by wearing protective eyewear.

In this article, we will discuss common sports-related injuries and how we can prevent them.

What sports cause eye injuries?

Eye injuries could develop in almost all sports; however, some have a particularly high incidence.

In the United States, basketball is the leading cause of sports-related injuries. According to one study, basketball tops the list of eye injuries, followed by baseball, softball, and airsoft rifles. These statistics pertain solely to the US.

Wearing protective sports glasses (i.e., polycarbonate lenses or trivet lenses) could be a very effective way to lower the incidence of eye injuries.

Before choosing an eye-protective product, make sure it meets the standards of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Basketball and sports eye safety

As we mentioned above, basketball is the number one cause of sports-related eye injuries in the US. 

Here are some real-life examples to demonstrate this fact:

High school basketball player Angellia Lilomaiava developed a retinal detachment after a collision on the court. The player got poked in the eye and got back to the bench. However, she had no idea that she sustained an injury that could prevent her from playing basketball ever again.

When it comes to football or soccer and injuries, most people associate American football and soccer with orthopedic injuries. While this is factual, physicians face a large number of eye injuries that could potentially compromise the vision of players.

Eye Injuries

According to reports, more than 2.5 million eye injuries occur every year, with almost 50,000 cases of permanent vision loss. 

Football is considered a high-risk sport for sports eye injury, along with basketball, baseball, and soccer. Eye injuries that occur in these sports can be blunt, penetrating, or radiating in nature. Blunt injuries are the most prevalent.

The history of the injury gives eye doctors a lot of information about the size of the object, the angle of impact, and the level of force used. 

As for the clinical examination, your eye doctor may use an eye chart, confrontational visual fields, assessment of extraocular movements, pupil evaluation with a light, and the red reflex.

Other things like fireworks can cause eye injuries, but they are not typically related to sports.

Cornea Injuries

Besides the orbits, the outermost layer of the eye (i.e., the cornea) is subject to blunt and penetrating injuries.

A common injury is a corneal abrasion, which occurs from the mechanical trauma generated by the fingernail of an opposing player – for example.

Applying fluorescein strips is the fastest way to identify a corneal abrasion. The management of this condition includes the prevention of complications (e.g., infections) and treatment of pain. 

Corneal abrasions from fingernails are notorious for turning into a recurrent problem known as recurrent corneal erosion. This recurrent problem can be combated with proper treatment by your eye doctor quickly.

Retina Issues

As we mentioned in our previous example (retinal detachment), the retina is also prone to injuries related to sports. Severe trauma to the eyeball during a football or soccer game can lead to dangerous injuries to the retina. The most feared complication of these injuries is retinal detachment. Symptoms of a retinal detachment may include floaters, flashes of light(photopsia), and visual field defects. 

The prognosis of retinal detachment is time-sensitive, which emphasizes the importance of referral to emergency care quickly.

If you experience any of the symptoms cited above, you need to consult with an eye doctor immediately to reattach your retina. This procedure could save your vision.

How to prevent and treat sports eye injuries

Depending on the type of activity you are performing, your risk of eye injury varies. For this reason, you need to ensure that you are wearing the correct type of eye protection.

Note that standard eyeglasses do not offer appropriate eye protection. In fact, they could be the source of severe forms of eye injuries when they shatter, allowing pieces of glass to penetrate your eyeball. In the US, most eyeglass places won’t allow children to get plastic lenses that put them at risk for this shatter, but adults are still commonly placed in these types of plastic lenses.

Additionally, you should be very careful if you engage in games that involve projectiles and sharp objects.

If you develop an eye injury during a game, you should immediately head to an emergency department or your eye doctor, even when the injury appears insignificant.

Late medical attention can be devastating, leading to permanent vision loss.

Takeaway message about sports eye safety

Becoming aware of the high-risk sports that predispose to eye injuries is crucial to lowering the incidence of preventable blindness. People who engage in sports that place their eyes at risk (e.g., basketball, football) may need to wear protective eye lenses.

We hope that this article managed to highlight the danger of eye injuries that occur in the field and the appropriate ways to prevent them.

If you have questions or concerns about this topic, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Dr. Thirion

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