By Dr. Harry Bohnsack,
President, Canadian Association of Optometrists
The word “eye-popping” is a great one if reading about an athlete’s numbers or plays.
But nobody wants to hear that word when it comes to a sports-related injury.
In the most recent statistics (2019) available on eye injuries from sports in the United States (data for Canada only tracked children and adolescents reporting at select hospitals), the highest numbers of sports-related eye injuries came from basketball, followed by water sports and pools.1 These were followed by non-powder guns, darts, arrows and slingshots (a single category), cycling and exercise and weightlifting.
Eye injuries can also occur in low-risk sports, like skateboarding, skating, volleyball and even fishing. Somewhat surprisingly, more adults were at risk from these sports than children (with some notable exceptions, including baseball, playground equipment, trampolining and the afore-mentioned skateboarding).
The types of eye injuries cited were infections, corneal abrasions, eye socket fracture, detached retinas or a traumatic cataract. Those are some serious vision issues and yet research indicates that 90 per cent of sports-related eye injury is preventable.
How? By wearing protective eyewear.
Myth: a widely held, but false belief or idea – including the one that says regular glasses are good enough to protect the eyes during sports. Neither regular glasses, sunglasses and even industrial safety glasses offer the protection needed for the more vigorous activity attached to sport and can likely cause even greater eye damage if they shatter.
As eye care professionals, we have an opportunity to educate our patients about the importance of appropriate eyewear for sports activity.
Sports goggles come in a variety of shapes and sizes. While many are designed for racquet sports, they are available for a wide range of activities, including basketball, soccer, hang gliding and sailing. Some are even designed to sit inside helmets for football, hockey and baseball.
Whenever I get the chance, I recommend protective eyewear that uses shatterproof plastic, or sports frames, which are designed to shift the impact force away from the eye area, thereby decreasing the likelihood of damage. Lenses are usually made of polycarbonate because they are thinner (and therefore lighter) and provide UV protection.
As with any glasses, fitting them to the individual wearer is key. And while there may be a temptation with kids to purchase larger protective eyewear so there is “room to grow,” that can both compromise the actual safety they are supposed to provide and discourage a child from wearing them because they are uncomfortable.
While supportive of all efforts to get people active (if they are active and outside, a double
bonus in the fight against myopia!), it is important to encourage people to do so safely.
Don’t be shy about talking to your patients about sports-related eye safety.
It could help save their vision.
- Data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Injury Information Clearinghouse and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System’s Product Summary Report for 2018.