Common Eye Injuries In Sports – How To Play It Safe

From team sports like baseball and softball, to impromptu basketball games and golf, it’s a fun time of year! As activities increase, it is important to review the most common eye injuries in sports and doctors’ recommendations on how to protect your eyes and those of your family members during sports.

Which sports are at higher risk?

While injuries can occur in any sport, there are certainly those that are considered to be at higher risk. According to research shared by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), basketball is the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries, followed by baseball, softball, airsoft guns, pellet guns, racquetball. and hockey.

Due to the higher risks posed by these sports, proper protective equipment and eyewear are all the more critical. However, it can be confusing to know which glasses are correct, as there are so many options available today. We sometimes hear from patients that they don’t need eye protection for sports, which is a common misconception.

Why wear eye protection?

Photo: iStock

According to the AAO, approximately 100,000 people are injured by sports-related eye injuries each year. Of these injuries, approximately 13,500 result in permanent vision loss.

Different sports require different goggles, so it’s important to educate yourself – and talk to your eye doctor – before starting a sport. For example, regular glasses do not provide adequate eye protection, and some lens materials can cause more damage if they break.

The encouraging news is that around 90% of sports-related eye injuries could be prevented by wearing proper protective eyewear. So what to choose?

What are the right safety glasses?

For sports like basketball, racquetball, soccer, and field hockey, AAO recommends protective sports eyewear with impact-resistant plastic, called polycarbonate lenses. It is also recommended that the goggles you choose have been tested and meet American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards or have met the CSA (College Squash Association) racket sports standard.

If you play sports involving snow or water – such as skiing, for example – wear protective goggles or eye protection with UV protection (100% UVA and UVB, or “UV400”) to protect the eyes from the harmful spectrum of the sun. Some brands of contact lenses advertise UVA and UVB protection as a feature of their lenses, but these will not block 100% of UVA and UVB rays; Sunglasses should always be worn with contact lenses for UV protection outdoors.

Photo: iStock

Polarized sunglasses lenses are especially useful because they block horizontal light (such as bright reflections from the surface of snow or water), which increases visual comfort and clarity.

A complete list of eye protection requirements and guidelines is available on the AAO website. (Link below.)

Should I buy prescription glasses / safety glasses / goggles online?

In a study by the American Optometric Association, the Vision Council, and the Optical Laboratories Association, 200 pairs of prescription glasses were ordered from online retailers. Of these 200 pairs, only 154 were received. Overall, 44.8% of these pairs were filled with incorrect prescriptions or posed a safety concern. All lenses have been tested for impact resistance (as reported by the FDA) – of these, 19% of adult lenses and 25% of children’s lenses failed impact resistance tests.

In addition, prescription glasses ordered online are not professionally fitted by an optician. Specifically, opticians measure the interpupillary distance (PD) and major reference point (MRP) which serve to properly center your prescription so that you can see through your glasses as your doctor intended.

As with most other products, you get what you pay for. Unlike most other products, your prescription glasses / safety glasses / goggles serve to protect your or your child’s vision – a major way of living our life, a major factor in your child’s ability to learn . Is it worth buying professional grade glasses that meet FDA minimum safety standards? Absolutely!

What should I do if I hurt myself?

Photo: iStock

If you or a loved one suffers an eye injury while playing sports, call your eye doctor immediately. They will be able to provide remote care advice and recommendations or determine if the injury requires immediate medical attention.

Common eye damage symptoms to look out for include:

  • Eyelid injury, such as a cut or tear
  • Difficulty seeing
  • Persistent eye pain, including sensitivity to light
  • Changes in eye movement or orientation
  • Unusual pupil shape or size
  • Sensation of a foreign body in the eye

As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding the health and safety of your eyes, always consult an eye care professional.

USEFUL LINK: Complete list of eye protection requirements and guidelines on the AAO website.

About the Author

Dr. Moore is a residency-trained medical optometrist who focuses on comprehensive eye health care (including diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome), postoperative eye care and contact lens exams. In addition to her clinical experience, Dr. Moore has made presentations at several national meetings and enjoys volunteering her time on medical missions. She practices at ReFocus Eye Doctors.


AAO – Sports eye safety
AAO – Eye protection
AAO – Protective glasses for young athletes
AAO – Safety glasses and protective glasses
NIH – Order prescription glasses online

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