Athletes no doubt want to avoid the injuries you hear about most: ankle sprains, concussions, groin pulls, hamstring strains, ACL tears. But the risk for an eye injury is not to be overlooked. Sports-related eye injuries are quite common, particularly among kids.
A study that was recently published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that more than 19,000 children 17 and younger were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments annually for sports- and recreation-related eye injuries from 1990 to 2012, the most common injuries being corneal abrasion, conjunctivitis, and foreign body in the eye.
The study, which assessed data provided by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, cited basketball, baseball and softball as the sports most commonly associated with eye injuries. Ice hockey and racquet sports also present the risk of eye injury.
"In my opinion, anybody who is playing a sport that is full contact should be protecting their eyes," says Nichole Rusk, clinical manager at The Krieger Eye Institute. "What would be worse to an athlete than hurting a knee is hurting an eye. They're not going to let you play if you don't have good vision, because they need to know that you have two healthy eyes."
Frequency of eye injuries
Despite the frequency of eye injuries among children playing sports, the number of children wearing eye protection during play remains low at about 15%, according to The Vision Council, a trade association that represents manufacturers and suppliers of the optical industry.
All children, whether or not they wear prescription glasses or contacts, need protective eyewear for sports. When shopping for protective eyewear for the kids, Rusk says, parents should pick glasses with polycarbonate (durable plastic) lenses, which offer the highest degree of protection from contact.
Anti-reflective coating is ok, but not required. Modern safety goggles with durable, wraparound frames are highly recommended. The Vision Council recommends eyewear that meets impact standards established by the American Standards for Testing and Materials.
"The lenses are most important. Even though it's very seldom that sports eyewear is made with stand plastic lenses (plastic without poly), you would never want to put regular plastic lenses in an athlete's glasses, because if a ball hits them in the face, the lens could shatter and go into their eye and cause serious eye damage," Rusk says.
Finding the right protective eyewear for young athletes can be challenging because most products manufactured by the big brands are for adult competitors, Rusk says. More so than buying glasses from big-name companies, parents should prioritize the durability of the glasses for the child, she adds.
Young golfers also need proper eye protection. Parents of children who play golf should buy them eyewear with polycarbonate lenses and amber tent if the child finds glare challenging.