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batter about to hit a pitch during a baseball game

Sports Eye Safety: Tips from our Eye Trauma Service

Expert Chats

As the weather warms and the days lengthen, pick-up basketball games, youth sports leagues and outdoor activities are on the way.

When preparing for summer leagues, remember that eye protection is among your most important pieces of athletic gear.

According to a recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, about 30,000 people presented annually to the emergency room with sports-related eye injuries from 2010 to 2013, most commonly from basketball, baseball or softball, or shooting an air gun.

…That’s a big number, especially considering that the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that about 90 percent of serious eye injuries can be prevented by wearing eye protection.

We spoke with Dr. Seanna Grob, Chief Resident and Director of the Eye Trauma Service at Mass. Eye and Ear, for her insight on sports-related eye injuries and prevention.

What are the most common sports-related eye injuries that you see?

We see tons of different sports injuries coming through our Emergency Department. In New England, we commonly see eye trauma from squash and racquetball injuries. However, I have seen injuries from just about every sport, such as basketball and baseball, BB guns and air guns, golf, hockey, surfing, lacrosse, soccer and even running.

Many of the injuries are from sports that involve some type of projectile, either a small ball like in squash or something that shoots out of a gun like a BB or paintball that can fit inside the orbital rim, the bony structure that surrounds the eyeball. Something that can fit inside this area can cause a lot of damage to the eye.

squash racket and ball in men's hand. Racquetball equipment

Which age group has the highest risk of eye injury?

We see injuries in people of all ages, from young children to adults. In the Mass. Eye and Ear Emergency Department, we probably more commonly see eye injuries in people in their teens or early twenties.

What would you recommend athletes do to minimize their risk of eye injury?

It depends on the sport. Most eye injuries caused by sports are preventable by using the appropriate gear. The gear that athletes should wear should meet the specific requirements for that sport. For example, sports such as hockey or paintball will require full face guards with protective eye shields. Regular eyeglasses are usually not sufficient.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that protective eyewear be worn when playing any sport that involves some kind of projectile, especially if the person playing the sport has low vision in one eye.

Child playing minor hockey

What should athletes look for in eye protection?

It is important to look at eye protection requirements for specific sports, since the risk of certain injuries varies by sport. Most sport-specific requirements can be found online by searching for the governing bodies of that specific sport. Also, ASTM International publishes a lot of specified requirements for particular sports.

Rec Specs are a great option for sports protective eyewear. A glasses prescription can be put in the lenses as well. Many kids with eye injuries enjoy wearing them; they make them look sporty and cool. Rec Specs are made out of the recommended polycarbonate material, which is shatterproof, strong and lightweight.

You can buy Rec Specs and other forms of eye protection online or at many optical shops. If you need prescription lenses in your sports glasses, you will need to get a prescription from your ophthalmologist or optometrist. Many optical shops carry them or can suggest a place that does. They can also be purchased online through a number of different sporting websites.

If someone receives an eye injury, what should he/she do?

It is very important that the injured person see an ophthalmologist, whether through an eye clinic or an Emergency Department like the one at Mass. Eye and Ear. It’s hard to know the extent of eye injuries just by looking at the eye without the appropriate exam equipment. At the Mass. Eye and Ear Emergency Department, we use an eye microscope and special lenses that can help us evaluate eye injuries.

It is also important that the person doesn’t push or rub the eye. If it’s a severe injury, that can make it worse. Putting a protective shield or something over the eye before the injured person is seen an ophthalmologist can be helpful.

What else should readers keep in mind about sports-related eye injuries?

Often, people who come in with injuries are not in a regulated competition or game. These injuries are more likely to happen during pick-up basketball games or playing in the park, where there isn’t someone monitoring athletes and ensuring they are wearing the appropriate gear. Even when athletes are not playing in official competitions, they should be wearing protective eyewear.

Also, it’s becoming more common to wear protective eyewear. More sports are making protective eyewear mandatory, and I think more regulations are coming.

Teenage friends playing basketball against each other on an outdoor court. Two young men playing a game of basketball.