Every 13 minutes, there is a case of eye injury during a sports activity in the United States. Most of these injuries occur in children between the ages of 11 to 14, and are the leading cause of blindness in children. Overall, 40,000 cases of eye injuries in children and adults are reported every year. 90 percent of these are preventable, which makes using eye protection while playing sports an absolute must.
Classification of Eye Risks in Sports
Eye risks in sports are classified as low risk, high risk, and very high risk.
In low risk sports, there is no contact of the body with sports equipment. Low eye risk sports include cycling, gymnastics, track and field events, and swimming.
High eye risk sports involve body contact and use sports equipment like a ball, bat, racquet, puck, or stick. High eye risk sports include basketball, tennis, football, lacrosse, baseball, water polo, and fencing.
Very high eye risk sports activities include wrestling, boxing, and contact martial arts.
The most common type of eye injury during sports is from blunt trauma. Blunt trauma involves a ruptured globe (broken eye ball), detached retina, bruised eye/eyelid, and orbital blowout (broken bone under the eyeball). Other types of injuries are penetrating injuries that occur when the eye is penetrated by shattered glass or other sharp objects, like fishing hooks. Radiation injuries occur to the eyes when there is overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. These injuries are commonly seen in cycling, water sports, and snow sports.
Before playing any sport, make sure the eyes are well protected. Normal glasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses do not provide enough protection for the eye. For eye protection in high eye risk sports like basketball and racquet sports, three millimeter polycarbonate safety goggles should be worn. Polycarbonate is a lightweight but shatterproof, impact resistant material. Batting helmets with polycarbonate face shields should be worn when playing youth baseball. Helmets and face shields approved by the U.S. Amateur Hockey Association should be used while playing hockey. Safety goggles with the right amount of UV protection and tint color should be used for cycling, water sports, and snow sports to protect against eye sunburn, cataracts, and other eye diseases.
Treatment for eye injuries varies according to the type and seriousness of each case. For a small foreign body in the eye, blinking and the eye's natural tears usually gets them out. A moist cotton swab may also be used. If the object is embedded, do not try to remove it at home. Instead, head to the emergency room where a doctor will remove the object and, most likely, prescribe surface antibiotics to prevent infection.
In case of a minor cornea scratch, surface pain relievers and antibiotics may be used. A severe cut to the eyeball needs stitches. In case of a black eye, cold compression on the eye for the first 24 hours followed by warm compression is recommended to reduce the swelling of the eye. As a black eye heals, the bruising may appear to spread, but this is normal. A doctor should be consulted if the bruising does not go away in a week or two.
In case of orbital fractures, the doctor may wait a few days for the swelling and bruising to go down before treating it. If the patient experiences double vision, it should go away in three to four days. For severe fractures, surgery may be necessary.
For less serious injuries and depending on how the athlete feels, the doctor or team physician can decide if he or she should return to play. Athletes with serious eye injuries should return to play only after the approval of an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in eye disorders.
There should be no pain in the eye and vision should be normal. Wearing protective eyewear is a must until recovery is complete and strongly recommended as a general practice.