It is estimated that 40,000 sports-related eye injuries occur every year – 90 percent of which can be prevented.
From basketball to baseball, and from swimming to skiing, the risk of eye injury can vary, but in all sports and activity the risk of injury can be greatly reduced by simply using protective eyewear.
To reduce the risk of eye injury, vision experts recommend wearing protective eyewear made of an ultra-strong polycarbonate, a highly impact-resistant plastic. In fact, polycarbonate is 10 times more impact resistant than other plastics. Eye protection is most important for those sports that involve small, high velocity projectiles. However, no matter the risk category of the sport, all athletes are encouraged to wear protective eyewear appropriate to their sport. Sports are classified into four categories based on the risk of sustaining an eye injury. High-risk sports include: paintball, basketball, and racquetball. Moderate-risk sports include: tennis, soccer, and golf. Low-risk sports do not involve high-speed balls, swinging clubs or bats, or close aggressive play, and include swimming and cycling. Safe sports include track and field and gymnastics.
Protective eyewear is readily available and can range from $20 to $40 for basic eyewear, and $60 or more if the lens is prescription. Keep the following items in mind when purchasing protective eyewear: 1) ensure the eyewear fits and is comfortable, 2) check to make sure the eyewear meets the standards set by the American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM), and 3) verify that the eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate.
It is important to remember that glass lenses or regular vision correcting contact lenses do not provide adequate protection when participating in sports. In some situations, they can even increase the risk or severity of eye injury.
n addition to polycarbonate eye protection, Dr. William R. Barlow, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, always recommends sunglasses for outdoor sports, such as skiing and water skiing, to reduce the risk of sun-related eye problems. Wearing sunglasses that filter UVA and UVB sun rays can protect you from developing ocular surface cancer and cataracts. Choose sunglasses that: 1) reduce glare, 2) block 99 or 100 percent of UV rays, and 3) are comfortable to wear.
"Both children and adults should wear activity-appropriate protective eyewear whenever possible," stresses Kate Edwards, Executive Director of Friends for Sight. Today, protective eyewear is not required in junior or little leagues; the responsibility is left to parents or guardians. To help protect children's eyes, adults (e.g. parents, coaches) should be positive role models for children by always wearing protective eye wear while engaging in sports, and by encouraging children follow suit.