Whether it’s basketball, dodgeball, tennis, or any other of the countless recreational sports, recreational sports can provide heaps of health benefits.
No matter the age group, physical activity can contribute to:
- Improving time management skills
- Boosting confidence
- Relieving stress
- Improving brain function
- Fostering empathy
- Enhancing energy and vitality
- Improving imagination and creativity
But while participating in sports can lead to a more active and healthy lifestyle, injuries can and do happen. Sports-related injuries occur more commonly than people expect.
And while knee and shoulder injuries often make the headlines, one of the worst sports-related injuries any athlete can endure is an eye injury. Eye injuries in sports sideline nearly 40,000 people every year and the severity of an eye injury can vary according to the sport.
Which sports cause the highest number of eye injuries?
When it comes to eye injuries, sports are classified across three categories: low-risk, high-risk, and very high-risk.
Low-risk sports are defined as physical activities with limited to no physical contact and does not involve sticks or flying objects.
These typically include track and field events, cycling, gymnastics, and swimming (although swimming could be considered a high-risk sport if the water is unclean).
Any sport that requires protective gear and the use of a stick and some sort of ball, and involves bodily contact, is considered high-risk.
Some examples of high-risk sports include baseball, basketball, football, fencing, and water polo.
Very high-risk sports are sporting events that discourage the use of eyewear.
Because there’s no way to mitigate the risk of a potential eye injury, contact sports like boxing and wrestling are considered very high-risk sports.
These sports can also contribute to head trauma which can result in eyesight damage.
Types of sports-related eye injuries
Generally speaking, there is no sport exempt from potential injury, particularly eye trauma. There are five common types of eye injuries associated with sports.
● Corneal abrasion
This occurs when a foreign object or debris scratches the eye surface (cornea). While the abrasion is a superficial scratch, the pain can be quite intense. Symptoms can include redness, light sensitivity, headaches, nausea, and blurry or decreased vision.
● Blunt eye trauma
Blunt force trauma to the eye is the most common sports-related eye injury. Flying objects like a basketball or a painful blow to the face can lead to blunt eye trauma. Symptoms include bruising and swelling and blurry or double vision.
This type of eye injury is considered vision-threatening and may be considered an ocular emergency.
● Penetrating eye injury
Penetrating trauma occurs when a foreign object pierces the structure of the eye. The location and depth of penetration will determine the severity of the injury. This type of injury often results in sight-threatening damage and can cause lacerations, vitreous hemorrhage, and even retinal detachments.
● Radiation injury
Unprotected or prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause corneal damage. This type of injury is rare as it mostly occurs in outdoor sports like cycling, skiing or snowboarding, and surfing. These “flash burns” may cause temporary blindness and can increase the risk of vision loss.
● Chemical burn
Certain athletic fields will use chemical powders and spray paints to mark the field of play. These chemicals can be kicked up during play and penetrate the eye. If not immediately treated with cool water or a sterile saline solution, players can experience irritation, burning, and even permanent eye damage.
Preventing sports-related eye injuries
While every sport has an inherent risk to an eye injury, the good news is that the majority of them are preventable.
One of the main ways of protecting yourself during sporting events is by wearing protective eyewear — but not just any type of eyewear.
Choose eyewear that’s ASTM F803-approved. These come with lensed polycarbonate protectors that are significantly more resistant to impact than normal eyeglasses.
When participating in high-risk sports that involve projectiles like hockey or lacrosse, wear helmets that come with a polycarbonate shield.
Outdoor activities like snowboarding or skiing expose your eyes to harmful UV radiation. Prolonged exposure can be severely damaging.
Before participating in these types of activities, do some research to select the appropriate eyewear. Sometimes, high-quality, UV protected sunglasses are enough to give your eyes relief from the reflective terrain.
As there is no satisfactory eye protection available in very high-risk sports, consider if the sport is worth the risk of impaired eye vision or permanent blindness.
Other preventive tips and precautions
Before participating in high or very high-risk sports, talk to an eye specialist.
Consulting with an eye care professional will help you determine what protective eyewear you should wear for your sport.
Your eye doctor may also perform a pre-participation eye examination to identify if your eyesight is at risk for a sports-related eye injury or if your family has a history of retinal problems.
If you do get injured during play, don’t return to sports until you get the all-clear from your eye doctor.
If an eye injury occurs during a sporting activity, consider going to the emergency room. Even something as seemingly small as a poke in the eye can result in potential vision problems down the road.
Dr. Millicent M. Grim, Specialist Ophthalmologist & LASIK Specialist, is the Medical Director of Gulf Eye Center in Dubai. Since 2002, Gulf Eye Center’s highly qualified ophthalmologists and optometrists/ODs have been successfully treating a wide range of eye conditions using advanced techniques. They also provide comprehensive eye care and vision restoration procedures for people of all ages.