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It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets an Eye Injury

Traumatic eye injury remains the second most common cause of visual impairment, behind only cataracts. Each year, nearly 15 percent of the 2.5 million eye injuries in the United States occur during sporting activities. 1 Of these injuries, 42,000 are severe enough to warrant an emergency department visit, and approximately 13,500 result in legal blindness.

While many of these injuries involve recreational athletes, an estimated one in 18 college athletes suffers an eye injury each year. 3 Athletes who are particularly vulnerable to injury are those participating in sports that involve hard and/or fast-moving projectiles (e.g., squash, baseball), sticks (e.g., hockey, lacrosse), close contact (e.g., basketball, football, wrestling), and intentional injury (e.g., martial arts, boxing). Among athletes 5–14 years of age, eye injuries most commonly occur in baseball; in those 15–64 years of age, basketball is the leading cause of eye injury in sports.

Despite the high prevalence of eye injuries among athletes, it has been estimated that greater than 90 percent of eye injuries can be prevented by the use of protective eye wear. Two sports, ice hockey and women’s lacrosse, which have instituted rules requiring use of protective eye wear, have a significantly decreased incidence of eye injury among their athletes. 5,6 Several organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Optometric Association, and the United States Department of Health and Human Services have issued position statements that strongly advocate the use of protective eye-wear in risk prone sports. Eye protection is especially important for functionally one-eyed athletes (best corrected visual acuity in weaker eye, 20/400): these athletes must wear eye protection and should not participate in high risk sports such as boxing or full contact martial arts.

However, not all available eye wear protects against trauma. In fact, athletes using “street wear” (i.e., corrective eye wear and/or sunglasses) may be at higher risk of sustaining an eye injury than those without eye protection. Therefore, parents and athletes participating in sports that pose risk for eye injury should ensure that any purchased eye wear meet the standards of the sport as certified by the American Society for Testing Materials, American National Standards Institute, and/or National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Generally, polycarbonate and/or Trivex lenses offer substantial protection against most projectiles encountered in sport.

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