You wouldn't let your kid play football or ride a bike without a helmet, but did you know that sports eyewear is essential, too? Eye safety is sometimes overlooked, but eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in American kids. And in school-aged kids, most of those injuries are sports-related, which may be due to kids' aggressive play, their athletic immaturity, or a lack of supervision during some recreational activities.
There is good news, though: the great majority (90%) of these eye injuries are totally avoidable. And protective eyewear—safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards—is easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Athletes who are blind in one eye should wear protection for all sports, not just the high-risk ones. And remember that ordinary sunglasses, prescription glasses, and contact lenses don't offer protection against eye injuries.
Most Dangerous Sports
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology list the following sports as the most high-risk for eye safety. Sports involving projectiles, sticks or rackets, and close proximity (meaning a player could easily be poked in the eye by another player) tend to be the most dangerous. Both contact and non-contact sports can be dangerous.
These sports put eye safety at moderate risk:
- Water polo
Bicycling, swimming and diving, skiing, and wrestling are low-risk; track and field and gymnastics are considered "eye safe" sports.
Types of Eye Injuries
The most common sports-related eye injuries are blunt injuries, penetrating injuries, and corneal abrasions. A blunt injury happens when the eye is hit and compressed by an object, such as a ball or another person's fist or elbow. A blunt injury could result in a black eye or broken bone, and can sometimes endanger vision. In a penetrating injury, a foreign object (most often glass from a shattered eyeglass lens) pierces the eye—a serious injury that requires emergency treatment to prevent loss of vision. A corneal abrasion is a scrape on the cornea, the outer lens of the eye. In sports, abrasions happen when a player's eye is poked by another player's finger. These injuries can be very painful but usually heal on their own with no lasting damage.
Eye Safety Glasses and Guards
Protective eyewear for sports includes safety goggles and eye guards. The lenses are usually made of a strong, shatterproof plastic called polycarbonate. Look for "ASTM F803 approved" on the label, which indicates a high level of protection. Prevent Blindness America offers these tips for choosing and buying protective eyewear:
- Buy eyeguards with lenses and make sure they pop out, not in, in case of an accident.
- Consider an anti-fog coating, or side vents, to help keep the lenses from fogging during practice or play.
- Look for padding where the goggles or eyeguards meet the face (brow line and bridge of nose).
- Make sure the eyewear is sized to fit comfortably, or is adjustable.
- Check to see that the eyewear has been tested especially for sports use.
You can buy protective eyewear at optical shops or sporting goods stores. Regular eyeguards will cost $20 to $40, while guards with prescription lenses start at about $60. To find out what kind of eye protection is recommended and allowed for your child's sport, visit the National Eye Institute.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Eye Health and Public Information Task Force. Joint Policy Statement: Protective Eyewear for Young Athletes. Pediatrics Vol. 113 (3), Pages 619-622, 2004 (reaffirmed June 2011).