Sports injuries account for an estimated 100,000 physician visits for kids each year, and sports cause about 40,000 eye injuries each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Three-quarters of sports-related eye injuries are suffered by men aged 18-34, with baseball and basketball named as the highest-risk sports when it comes to eye damage. Additional high-risk sports include hockey, football, lacrosse, tennis, fencing and water polo. Very high-risk sports involve body contact and do not include the use of eye protectors, such as wrestling, boxing and contact martial arts.
All it takes is for a bat to shatter, a ball hit or pitched at high speed to meet an eye socket, or an opponent's fingernail to poke or scratch the eye, and a serious injury can occur. Some are immediately recognized as severe, but sometimes the damage is hidden from view. The eye is such a complex structure that it is essential to get any eye injury assessed and treated by a specialist.
Different types of eye injuries, according to the National Institutes of Health:
--Blunt trauma. Blunt trauma is the cause of most sports-related eye injuries, occurring when something hits you in the eye. This may include a detached retina, a broken bone under the eyeball, orbital and lid contusions, iris injury, ruptured globe, retinal hemorrhage, retinal tears, and blood in the anterior chamber, among other serious conditions. Corneal abrasion is the most common effect of blunt trauma to the eye.
--Penetrating injury. This occurs when something cuts into your eye -- a fingernail scrape, shards of a broken bat or other piercing or cutting damage to the eye. The cuts or scrapes can be mild or deep.
--Debris in the eye. Any foreign body, such as dirt, road salt or sports-field products can move under the eyelid, block tear ducts or cause abrasions to the eyeball or eyelids.
--Radiation injuries. Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, such as while skiing, boating, water skiing or other water sports, can injure the eye.
The good news is that 90 percent of sports-related eye injuries can be prevented by wearing sanctioned protective eyewear tailored to your sport and meeting strict standards for safety, such as those of the American Society of Testing and Materials Standards. The National Institutes of Health advises that only 3-millimeter polycarbonate lenses should be used in protective sports eyewear. Choose function over style, and wisely invest more in your eye protection gear.
*When Eye Injuries Are Left Untreated
Ignore any advice to let the eye's tears clear away any debris, and don't trust your own vision looking at any eye bruises or cuts to rule out any serious eye injury. Damage within the eye can only be accurately seen and assessed by an eye doctor or ER specialist. If left untreated, eye injuries can lead to infection, further injury or vision loss, says the Department of Health and Human Services.
If you or your child has had previous eye injuries, the corneal epithelium may repeatedly break down, and the epithelium may be torn off.
If foreign bodies are left in the eye, blinking or eye movements can lead to abrasions. And metallic foreign bodies can rust onto the eye, permanently staining the cornea. Hemorrhage may occur from blunt trauma to the eye, and this can be paired with retinal detachment. A damaged or dislocated lens increases the chances of a cataract developing. And damage to the drainage portions of the eye can lead to glaucoma later in life.
These risks of vision loss and infection are quite serious, and again, almost all damage can be prevented with the proper use of eye protection. If any injury occurs on or around the eye, see an eye specialist right away for your method of care and injury treatment. You'll also want your physician's best advice on when you or your child can return to playing sports safely.