Whether you play sports competitively or just for fun, chances are you’re careful to wear the proper equipment to avoid injury. Football players, for example, wear helmets and pads; soccer players wear shin guards. However, there is one piece of equipment that’s usually missing across all sports: protective eyewear.
Sports Injuries by the Numbers
Did you know that over 100,000 eye injuries are sustained each year by athletes playing competitive and recreational sports? In addition, 42,000 of these injuries resulted in a visit to the emergency room. While eye injuries range in severity, in some cases they can be serious enough to cause blindness. In fact, sports eye injuries are one of the leading causes of blindness in children in this country. Sadly, the majority of the time these injuries could have been prevented with the right protective eyewear.
Common Sports Injuries
Some of the most common eye injuries from sports are:
Corneal abrasion. This is basically a scratch on the cornea, the clear dome-shaped structure that covers and protects the iris and pupil. A scratch to the cornea is very painful and can cause scarring and infection. This is a common injury seen in contact sports like basketball, where the players’ hands go near the face.
Orbital fracture. The orbit is the bony structure that surrounds and protects the eye. Some of the bones of the orbit are wafer-thin and fairly delicate, and can be subject to fracture if hit hard enough. When the bone breaks, it can pinch the eye muscles responsible for eye movement, preventing the eyeball from moving freely in the socket. This is most often caused by an object larger than the orbit, like a baseball. In some cases, pieces of broken bone can also pierce the eye.
Retinal damage. The retina, which forms the visual images we see, is often susceptible to damage in the event of trauma. Two such injuries are commotio retinae and retinal detachments. Commotio retinae occurs when the retina is hit by shock waves associated with blunt force trauma, resulting in swelling and decreased vision. A retinal detachment is where the retina pulls away from the choroid, the tissue underlying the retina. This causes loss of eyesight where the detachment occurred.
Traumatic cataract. The lens is the part of our eye that refracts light and allows us to see clear images. As we get older, sometimes the protein in the lens starts breaking down, causing the lens to form a cataract which clouds the vision. A traumatic cataract is caused by a penetration of the eye or blunt force trauma to the eye, and obstructs vision in the same way. This most often happens with racquet sports like tennis, with balls that move at high speeds and are small enough to fit into the orbit of the eye.
Traumatic iritis. The iris is the part of our eye that controls the amount of light coming in; it’s also what gives it its color. Injuries to the iris and surrounding structures can cause it to become inflamed, resulting in pain and sensitivity to light.
Before you start your upcoming sports season, take the time to talk to your eye doctor about the appropriate eyewear to protect two of your most important assets: your eyes! And no, contacts and everyday eyeglasses don’t count. Your best bet is to use either a helmet with an impact-resistant polycarbonate face shield where appropriate, or polycarbonate sports goggles.
Proper eye protection can go a long way toward preventing eye injuries, so make sure they’re a non-negotiable part of your sports uniform from now on. For more information on eye injuries and other eyes issues such as blurred vision and double vision symptoms, give the Neuro Visual Center of New York a call at (516) 224-4888.