Protective eyewear can cut down on sports injuries
More than 600,000 Americans will suffer an eye injury while playing a sport this year, says the National Eye Institute.
More than 600,000 Americans will suffer an eye injury while playing a sport this year, says the National Eye Institute. Of these, about 42,000 will be serious enough to require treatment in a hospital emergency room.
Children under the age of 14 will suffer more than 40 percent of reported eye injuries, according to the National Society to Prevent Blindness.
More than 90 percent of these injuries could be prevented if the athletes were wearing protective eyewear, say the NEI and the national associations of ophthalmologists and optometrists.
Some of the sports where the NEI says the risk of eye injury is high are pretty obvious — boxing, hockey, paintball, racquetball and squash.
Others may surprise you. Children 14 and under are most likely to hurt their eyes while playing baseball or softball. For children 15 and older, basketball is the leading source of eye injuries.
All baseball and softball leagues require helmets to be worn when batting or running the bases. Some for younger children also require chest protection. But only a handful have rules about protective eyewear.
Shannen Knight is the owner of A Sight for Sport Eyes, an Oregon firm that sells protective eyewear for sports. She was motivated to start her company 14 years ago because her little brother hurt an eye while playing baseball.
Baseball and softball leagues should require that protective eyewear be worn, she said, "especially for younger kids who are less well coordinated."
Francis S. Mah, a surgeon at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Eye Center, agrees. "Most of the injuries that occur are not blinding conditions," he said. "But blinding conditions can occur, and with a child, that's pretty terrible if it's preventable."
The number of eye injuries reported every year probably is underestimated, said Kenneth Cheng of Wexford, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology. But "to require every Little League player to wear eye protection is probably excessive, and probably is not going to happen because of the added cost involved,"he said.
Jeanne Doperak, a primary care sports medicine physician at UPMC, also said requiring eyewear has a down side.
"Eyewear comes at a cost," she said. It can be uncomfortable, and the additional cost could prevent some kids from playing baseball and softball.
"There is not enough data to show we should not leave it up to the individual,"Doperak said.
"A lot of kids think it is uncool to wear eye protection,"Mah said. "Their favorite sports heroes aren't wearing eye protection. Adults should be wearing eye protection to be good role models."
A possible compromise, said Mah, would be to require face shields on batting helmets. "Either an actual shield or a little bar like a face mask in football would help prevent facial fractures, help prevent eye injuries," he said.
The eye institute's data present a somewhat misleading picture. Children 14 and under are most likely to suffer eye injuries while playing baseball or softball because so very many children play the sports, and they play them so often. But the statistical probability a child will hurt his or her eye playing baseball or softball is lower than for other types of injuries, and relatively few injuries are more serious than a black eye.
Both those who think protective eyewear should be required for baseball and softball, and those who think the decision should be left up to parents agree that if your child wears glasses, or wears sunglasses while playing, he or she must wear protective glasses.
"Regular glasses do not qualify as protective eyewear," Doperak said.
Knight lists 28 protective goggles and glasses for baseball on her company's website. They range in price from $20 to $125. Prescription goggles/glasses cost more.
She recommends sports goggles manufactured by Hilco and Rec-Specs, but she said any eyewear that is ASTM rated is satisfactory.
Formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, ASTM International, headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, develops voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of products.
Eye injuries in basketball come not from the ball but from flying elbows, and the likelihood of serious injury is greater than in baseball.
"Basketball injuries are potentially the worst eye injuries because people are looking up at the ball and not at the elbow coming," Cheng said.
More information about sports specific protective eyewear can be found on Knight's website at www.sporteyes.com.
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