Tips to Protect Children from Eye Injuries

Now that spring has begun and the weather is getting warmer kids are running around outside and participating in popular spring sports like baseball and soccer.  Parents may not realize that many kids suffer from eye injuries from sports.  How can you keep your child safe from hazardous eye injuries? The Healthy Moms Magazine had the opportunity to learn some great eye safety tips from VSP Optometrist, Dr. Paul Berman, the Team Optometrist for the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and the founder and Director of Special Olympics Opening Eyes, a program serving the visual needs of people with intellectual disabilities
  1. How can parents keep their kids’ eyes safe while playing sports?
With the spring sports season underway and summer camps just around the corner, kids will be spending more time playing their favorite sports. Unfortunately, the majority of these young athletes will be leaving their eyes at risk.
The greatest risk to a child’s vision is an eye injury, which in many cases is caused by a sports-related accident. To ensure eye safety, children should wear sports-certified protective eye wear made specifically to withstand impact and provide UV protection. Children can wear sports eye wear for any indoor or outdoor activity, however it is most important to use when playing higher risk sports in which children are throwing kicking or hitting a ball (i.e. soccer or basketball) or swinging equipment (i.e. baseball or hockey).
Also, it’s important to remember that regular glasses and sunglasses with non-shatterproof lenses can be extremely dangerous if broken during play. Be sure to bring your child to an eye doctor to be properly examined and fitted with sports-certified protective eye wear – no matter if your child needs glasses or has perfect vision.
  1. What types of sport-related eye injuries can occur? 
According to Prevent Blindness America, 40,000 eye injuries related to sports and recreation occur every year, and over 90% of them can be prevented with the proper use of sports eye wear.
Sports-related eye injuries can include:
  • corneal abrasion (painful scrape or scratch on the cornea)
  • inflamed iris
  • fracture of the eye socket
  • blunt trauma
  • penetrating injury
  • traumatic cataract, causing blood to spill into the eye’s anterior chamber
  • swollen or detached retina
  • blindness
  1. What are the most common types of sport-related eye injuries?
The most common types of sport-related eye injuries are blunt injuries, corneal abrasions and penetrating injuries.
  • Blunt injuries occur when the eye is compressed by impact from an object (like a lacrosse stick, elbow, etc.)
  • Corneal abrasions are painful scrapes on the outside of the eye, or the corena (commonly caused by opponents fingers)
  • Penetrating injuries are caused by a foreign object piercing the eye and are very serious (caused broken glass from an athletes frames)
  1. What sports have the most eye-related injuries?
Sports with bats and/or airborne balls at eye level have the most eye-related injuries
    • High risk: basketball, baseball, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, soccer
    • Low risk: track and field, swimming
Sports with the highest risk of eye injury:
  • Children over 14: basketball
  • Children under 14: baseball
  1. At what age can children start wearing contacts instead of sports goggles? Are there any
    concerns with contact use while playing sports?
Doctors generally fit children as young as seven years old with contacts but the child must be able to take responsibility for cleaning and changing contacts on a regular basis. Parents should also monitor younger children to make sure they’re using the contacts correctly.
Remember that contacts can help give a better peripheral scope than prescription lenses but they lose the protective factor that sports goggles provide. It’s recommended that even if a child wears contacts, that he or she also wears protective sports goggles.
  1. If my child is under performing on the field, could they have a vision problem?
There are many visual skills besides just visual acuity that a child needs to excel and enjoy playing sports, such as depth perception, peripheral awareness, and eye coordination, to name a few. If your child has difficulty with sports that require accurate eye-hand coordination, they may need corrective lenses or may be suffering from an underlying vision problem. Bring your child in for a comprehensive eye exam once every year to track his/her visual development.
  1. Do you have any other advice or tips for our readers?
Protecting your kid’s eyes now with the proper equipment and ensuring that they receive annual eye exams will help them to stay on top of their game, both on the field and off. Don’t let an eye injury or vision problem limit your child’s future or decrease their ability and enjoyment of sports.
For a great list of protective eye wear recommended for various sports, please see The Athlete’s Essential Guide to Eye Wearon
Paul Berman, OD, FAAO, practices at Focus Eye & Health in Hackensack, New Jersey. Dr. Berman has consulted for Head Start, preschool facilities, professional and Olympic athletic teams, sports protection and performance, and the Special Olympics. He is the Chairman of the Coalition to Prevent Sports Eye Injuries and specializes in vision therapy, ocular discomfort, and sports protection, as well as performance problems related to reading, computers, and sports. He can be reached at
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