The Importance of Eye Protection when Playing Sports
*Updated September 2023
Athletes know the importance of protecting their bodies when playing sports. Helmets, pads, and mouth guards are just a few of the items used to keep them safe. When it comes to vision and eye protection, however, there tends to be less concern.
Discover why using eye protection while participating in sports is essential to keeping your eyes and vision safe.
Most athletes should use eye protection
What sports do you think cause the most eye injuries? Action sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking probably come to mind first, however, sports like basketball, hockey, boxing, and soccer also have a risk of eye injury.
Although many traditional sports in the United States don’t require eye protection by the rules, parents and athletes should consider adding it to their list of protective gear.
Below is a chart of activities and their potential for eye injury:
Some sports, such as paintball and fencing, have a high risk of eye injury and require participants to wear eye protection. However, others such as hockey, baseball, and softball don’t require eye protection. Unfortunately, significant injuries can occur if a player takes a hockey puck or ball to the eye.
Sports like biking, skiing, snowboarding, and swimming have a lower injury risk, but eye protection is still a good idea. Bikers should wear eye protection to prevent small items like rocks or sand from getting in their eyes. Skiers and snowboarders get multiple benefits from wearing goggles. Goggles prevent debris and wind from getting into their eyes, and many types of goggles also have protection against the sun.
Did you know that eye protection can help prevent infections in some cases? Swim goggles, for example, protect against chlorine, bacteria, and other chemicals from entering the eye. These chemicals can cause eye irritation and other medical problems.
Sports-related eye injuries
Sports-related eye injuries are more common than you might think. Here are some of the eye injuries that can occur when playing sports without proper eye protection:
- Corneal Abrasion: Corneal abrasion occurs when the cornea, or “the clear, protective ‘window’ at the front of the eye," is scratched or injured. This tends to happen when a small object such as a pebble, dirt, toys, or a ball hits the eye.
- Hyphema: Hyphema is bleeding in and around the eye, usually after being struck by something. If this appears, it is critical to get medical care immediately.
- Black Eye: A black eye occurs after impact with the eye causes the surrounding tissue to bruise.
- Fractures: Fractures occur when one or more bones surrounding the eye are broken. This is usually caused by a significant impact. Orbital fractures can cause severe damage to the eye, so going to see an eye doctor is extremely important.
- Eyelid laceration: Eyelid lacerations are scratches or cuts that occur on the eyelid. If this happens, have an eye physician examine the cornea, pupil, and retina to make sure the laceration doesn’t impair the athlete’s vision.
Choosing the right eye protection
The best way to protect your eyes and vision is to choose the correct protective gear. Different types of sports glasses and goggles are available. Here are some of the most common options:
- Sports glasses: Also known as “rec specs”, sports glasses are more common in sports with limited contact or a lower intensity.
- Sports goggles: More commonly used in sports with high speeds and the potential for contact. This is because sports goggles stay on your face much better than sports glasses.
Pro tip: Sports goggles and sports glasses can often be customized with prescription lenses. Be sure to talk with a vision specialist for more information.
Lastly, it’s crucial that whatever type of eye protection you get fits correctly. Protective eye gear that doesn’t fit properly may not provide adequate protection and may compromise your vision, which could result in serious injury.
Looking for more information on keeping your eyes healthy? Check out, “What is 20/20 vision”.