Just How Dangerous Is Your Favorite Sport for Your Eyes?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of eye injuries occur during sporting activities. In the US, for example, a person is treated every 13 minutes for an eye injury. Sadly, research suggests that at least one in three of these accidents involves a child’s eyesight.

So, just how dangerous can playing sports be for the eyes? Just what kind of injuries are they at risk of? Do you need to protect your eyes or your child’s eyes during play? These are questions answered here by the best eye doctor in Dubai

Not just balls, bats and fingers

Not all sports carry the same level of danger to the eyes. Those that involve bats and balls often carry a greater risk because the chances of being hit by a fast-moving object are higher. Playing vigorous sports where you are in close proximity to others carries a chance of being hit in the eye by an elbow or poked with a finger. Very few sports are low risk. If you have a reasonable chance of falling, you can easily injure your eyes, too. For outdoor sports, there are the dangers of sun damage as well. 

Here are five popular sports with examples of the types of injuries sustained by players and participants, as well as the kinds of damage that these accidents may cause. 

Ice hockey

It’s no secret that hockey is dangerous for your eyes. However, you might be surprised by where the injuries come from. Of all eye injuries, at least 37% come from being hit by the puck, 27% from the stick, and incredibly, 18% of injuries are caused by scrums and fights. Forceful blows to the eyes can cause a whole range of serious damage, including retinal tears and orbital fractures (breakages of the bones that support the eyes). 

Ice hockey is an aggressive sport that poses enormous risks to your eyes. Thankfully, eye protection is becoming increasingly used. There’s also some positive research that suggests that participants may tend to play a more gentle game when wearing their own protection, too. 

Basketball

Basketball is a leading cause of sporting eye injuries. It’s not just the ball that players should look out for; many injuries occur from being in close contact with other players and taking an elbow or finger in the eye. Basketball players are frequently treated for hematomas, hemorrhages and hyphema, all of which are problematic and cause serious bleeding. Scratched corneas are also a risk. 

Baseball

For children, baseball causes the greatest number of eye injuries in the US each year. The risks are pretty obvious; nobody wants a ball or bat to hit their child’s eye. Slips and falls during gameplay can also cause eye injuries. 

Scratches to the cornea, ruptured eyeballs, and retinal detachment can all occur as a result of baseball injuries. These can cause permanent damage to a child’s vision. 

Martial Arts

Sports with direct and face-to-face contact pose many dangers to the eyes. Studies show that nearly half of encounters end with some kind of injury and that 45% of these injuries are to the face. Therefore, martial arts should be considered as very high-risk sports.

The kinds of injuries endured are largely caused by blunt trauma — orbital fractures, lacerations, ruptures, retinal detachment and many others that can cause catastrophic and permanent damage. 

Cycling

Cycling is riskier to the eyes than you might imagine. Figures from the Nationwide Emergency Department Survey in the US suggest that around 1 in 7 sporting eye injuries are cycling-related. As well as injuries from falls, cyclists need to watch out for flying debris flicked up from the wheels of cars and other nearby bikes.

A further risk is radiation injury from prolonged sun exposure. Just as UV rays can burn your skin, they can burn your eyes. This danger also applies to any other sport where prolonged periods of time are spent outdoors, such as golf, horseback riding or skiing. Signs of radiation damage to your eyes include red or teary eyes and light sensitivity. Long-term damage can occur too through accelerated macular degeneration (eye aging) or retinal breakdown. 

Should I avoid these sports?

It is widely agreed that playing sports is good for the mind and the body. Nobody would suggest that you cease playing sports that you enjoy and benefit from.

However, you should consider how to better protect your eyes or your child’s eyes so that any risks are minimized. Doctors believe that about 90 percent of eye injuries in sports could be avoided with the use of protective eyewear. If you do not own protective eyewear, then this is something you need to consider purchasing as soon as possible.

If you have ever had any kind of surgery done on your eyes, including laser eye surgery, you should definitely consult your eye doctor before taking up a new sport. They can explain whether the risks are greater in your case. They can also help you decide on the suitability of a sport if you suffer from any kind of eye disease or need to wear glasses or contact lenses. 

What eye protection do I need?

Professional and international athletes of almost every sport are wearing protective eyewear more and more. But amateur athletes need protection, too. Whatever level you are playing at, your sport probably poses significant risks to your eyes, so you should take the necessary precautions. 

High-impact sports like ice hockey or American football require the maximum possible protection, usually a helmet with a faceguard. Goggles may be worn underneath, too. 

Ball and racquet sports require safety goggles that will protect the eyes and stay in position during play. Adjustable goggles come in a range of sizes so you are almost certain to find a pair that fits you or a child. If you are worried about comfort, look out for eyewear that offers extra padding around the eyes or nose. 

The lenses in any eyewear worn for sport must be made of shatterproof polycarbonate. Regular glasses or sunglasses do not offer protection from balls and bats and may shatter on impact, causing even greater damage to the eye. 

Even for low impact sports like cycling, contoured or wraparound safety glasses, or goggles must be considered. You can protect your eyes from flying debris this way. Make sure that any eyewear you wear for prolonged outdoor use has built-in UV protection, too. 

Where can I find out more?

The governing bodies of the sports that you or your child plays are usually a good source of information. Sports bodies are actively promoting the more frequent use of safety eyewear in many cases and will often have information on their websites listing the best options.

Coaches should be happy to assist and should be helping players and parents to take steps to safeguard the eyes. 

Your eye doctor will also happily make recommendations and help fit eyewear. Be sure to visit them for regular eye exams to make sure your eyes are healthy and that there is no undetected damage as yet. Also, make sure that any damage that you are aware of is checked by an ophthalmologist for the best possible outcomes.  

AUTHOR BIO

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. 

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