Vision plays a critical role in sports and should not be jeopardized to eye injuries. Statistics show that more than 70 per cent of eye injuries occur in people under the age of 25 years of which 40 per cent occur in people under the age of 15 years and 8 per cent occur in children under the age of 5 years. Hockey accounts for 27 per cent of all sporting injuries among Canadian children. As an optometrist, I work with athletes and believe parents play an active role in encouraging their children to wear eye protection.
Sports eyewear is essential gear, as the right eyewear can improve your child’s performance and protect their eyes by reducing the risk of eye injuries by 90 per cent. Wearing eye protection is mandatory for children with amblyopia (lazy eye), previous eye injuries or trauma in order to protect the vision in the clearer seeing eye.
Choosing not to wear protective eyewear has been shown to increase the risk of serious vision loss. So is it worth the risk? NHL player Steve Yzerman stated the following after experiencing an eye injury during the 2003 to 2004 playoff season: “Sitting in the hospital that night, I really wished I’d been wearing a visor. I played 21 years and never had an eye injury… The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘I don’t want to lose my eyesight.’ I really believe guys should be wearing them. I didn’t say that a week ago.”
The right protective eyewear for your sport
The sport your child plays makes a huge difference in the type of eye protection needed.
Hockey, baseball and racquet sports (racquetball, squash, tennis, badminton) – Sturdy eye protection is needed that is able to withstand the force of a ball, stick, puck or racquet hitting the eye that travels at speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour.
Basketball – Eyewear that will protect your eyes from other players’ fingers and elbows.
Swimming – Chlorine affecting the front surface of the eye.
Outdoor sports – Damage from UV rays.
Types of protective eyewear include: facemasks, visors, goggles, shields, sunglasses and scuba masks.
It is important to note that the glasses your child wears on a daily basis do not provide adequate protection against sporting injuries.
Goggles are a great device for protecting the eyes in sports that have a high risk of eye injuries from a fast-moving ball or racket. They can be worn for basketball, racquet sports, soccer, field hockey, skiing, snowboarding, surfing and swimming. Goggles should fit snugly and they can be made with a glasses prescription. Polycarbonate lenses are impact-resistant (10 times stronger than typical plastics), thin and lightweight, and strongly encouraged for children. The elastic band keeps them in place and prevents them from sliding off your child’s head.
If your child wears goggles outdoors, make sure they provide 100 per cent protection from both UVA and UVB. Some goggles have an anti-fogging feature, which helps keep lenses clear especially when skiing.
For swim goggles in particular, make sure they form a good seal around the eye in order to avoid pool chemicals and/or bacteria from getting into your child’s eyes. This is especially important if your child wears contact lenses as bacteria can adhere to the lenses increasing your child’s risk of eye infections.
Face masks, visors and shields are a great way to protect your child’s eyes. In 1980, Hockey Canada was the first league to make face protection certified by the Canadian Standard Association (CSA) a mandatory requirement for all of its registered players. Protective eyewear includes polycarbonate visors attached to a helmet. Parents should inspect their child’s plastic mask, visor or shield for scratches, cracks or broken wires that may compromise vision and weaken the structure of the device. CSA certification assures better protection and peripheral vision. I recommend children should practice wearing their new face protector with the helmet before using it in a game by watching television with it on to get used to seeing through the mask.
Sunglasses are crucial for children playing outdoors. Sunglasses with UV protection are available with or without prescription lenses and should be worn even on overcast days. If your child plays a sport that does not involve balls, pucks or rackets, sport sunglasses will usually provide adequate protection. Polarized lenses reduce glare and reflected light from water, snow, sand and other surfaces while providing 100 per cent UVA and UVB protection. Sunglasses also help shield your child’s eyes from dust and other small particles when outdoors.
Your optometrist can suggest the best type of sunglasses for your child as they can benefit from a frame designed specifically for the sport your child plays. A wraparound style for bicycling can protect the eyes from wind and debris while providing great sun protection all around the eyes. Photochromic lenses are another great option. They darken automatically in bright sunlight and adjust in response to varying levels of UV rays and are strongly recommended if your child currently wears glasses.
Eye injuries and treatment
Various injuries can occur with sports and correct treatment following an eye injury can prevent vision loss. Alberta Health Care covers medical emergencies for all age groups when seen by your optometrist.
The injuries listed below should be seen by your optometrist immediately:
Specks in the eye – If a particle enters the eye, never rub the eye. Try to lift the eyelid to locate the particle or blink a few times and let the eye move the particle out. If the speck remains, keep the eye closed and see your optometrist immediately.
Blows to the eye – Apply an ice cold compress immediately for about 15 minutes to reduce pain and prevent swelling. A black eye and/or blurred vision should be seen by your optometrist immediately.
Cuts of the eye and lid – Lightly bandage the eye without applying pressure and see your optometrist immediately. In this case, do not wash or rub the eye or try to remove any particles.
Chemical burns – Flush the eye with water immediately for 15 minutes. Roll the eyeball around as much as possible. Do not bandage the eye. See your optometrist immediately.
Sporting eyewear can prevent injuries. Is your vision worth the risk? The key to maintaining good vision is prevention. Remember, safety first!
Dr. Farrah Sunderji, OD, completed her Optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry followed by a residency in Pediatrics and Vision Therapy. Her practice, EyedeologyTM, is located at #245, 520 – 3 Avenue SW.