The statistics are significant. Thousands of children incur damage to their eyes from accidents, and some injuries are very serious. More than 42,000 sports and recreation-related eye injuries are reported each year in the U.S. Of these, persons under age 25 comprise over 70% of the injuries, and about 40% are children under age 15. Had these children been wearing protective eyewear, more than 90% of these eye injuries could have been prevented. In support of Sports Eye Protection Month in September, Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center Center shares recommendations to keep your young athlete’s vision safe.
Causes of Sports Related Childhood Eye Injuries
The cause of the majority of eye injuries in children and young adults is participation in sports. Aside from a black eye, the most common serious sports related eye injuries include: abrasions and contusions; detached retinas; corneal lacerations; cataracts; hemorrhages; and most unfortunate – loss of an eye. That’s why Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center Center emphasizes that sports eyewear is essential gear for any child that plays sports, in addition to any other activity where the potential for incurring an eye injury exists. Sports that involve balls, racquets or flying objects present a significant potential for eye injury. Although we usually associate fast moving balls with baseball and lacrosse, we may not realize that racquetball, tennis and badminton balls can actually reach speeds up to 60 miles per hour or faster! Accidentally airborne launched racquets, bats and lacrosse sticks can also move at high speed. Pokes and jabs by fingers and elbows, and head knocks, particularly in games where players are in close contact with each other, is another hazard. And have you ever stopped to think that contact eye injuries also are common in competitive swimming and water polo?
Although we usually correlate protective eyewear with a sport such as skiing and more recently football helmets fitted with protective visors, most sports-related injuries in the U.S. involving children between the ages of 5 and 14 occur while playing baseball. Although catchers wear protective face masks, batters are the most common victims, and pitchers and fielders are also often injured. Within the 15 to 24 year old bracket basketball is the sport responsible for the largest percentage of eye injuries due to eyes being poked by fingers and jabbed with elbows.
How to Prevent Eye Injury by Sport
The right eyewear actually has the potential to improve athletic performance while reducing the risk of eye injuries because it removes an element of fear of injury. Children should always wear protective eyewear specifically designed for the sport made with a polycarbonate lens for: baseball, basketball, football, racquet sports, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, competitive swimming, airsoft and paintball. The following list provides a general guide for the kind of eye protection most appropriate for your child’s sport.
Baseball: Polycarbonate or wire face guard attached to helmet; sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses while on the field.
Basketball: Sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses.
Field Hockey: Full face mask for the goalie; sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses/wire mesh goggles while on the field.
Football: Polycarbonate eye shield attached to helmet with wire face mask.
Ice Hockey: Helmet with full face protection.
Lacrosse: Helmet with full face protection or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses/wire mesh goggles.
Paintball and Airsoft: Full-face-protection goggles — covering the cheeks, ears, and eyes — with eye protection lenses at least 1/10 inch thick.
Racquet Sports: Sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses.
Skiing: High impact resistant goggles or sunglasses.
Other Important Sports Eyewear Guidelines
As well as using the appropriate eye-protection equipment for your child’s particular sport, these guidelines should also be implemented to assure that your child’s eyes are fully protected.
Proper Materials are Essential. Polycarbonate lenses provide the best eye protection for most sports. Not only is it 10 times more impact-resistant than other plastic materials, it is lightweight, scratch resistant, thin, and can be molded to accommodate most prescriptions or frame design.
No Substitutions. Contact lenses or ordinary glasses should never be substituted for protective eyewear.
Enforcement is Key. Make the wearing of eye protection a habit akin to daily teeth brushing. Kids imitate others, so parents should also wear eye protection when playing sports.
Important Fitting Considerations for Children
Sport goggles must be properly fit to the individual child. The “room to grow” philosophy should not apply here, although there should be some flexibility in width adjustment. Your child’s protective eyewear should be evaluated for fit annually. Sports glasses or goggles that the child has outgrown won’t provide adequate protection, and kids may take them off. Not only can frames be too tight, they can also obstruct peripheral vision. Restricted vision can result in a greater risk of being hit by any flying object, as well as reduced overall performance. What to look for?
- The padding inside the sides of the goggle should rest flush with the face.
- Eyes should be centered both horizontally and vertically in the lens area.
Fortunately, most coaches, parents and players now realize that wearing protective eyewear is an accepted part of playing sports. Many children have come to feel empowered when wearing protective eyewear – it shows they mean business on the playing field. Atlanta Vision Cataract & Laser Center Center offers a variety of sports goggles and glasses, and can incorporate prescription lenses into most designs. We understand that pediatric eye care merits special attention.