November 06, 2019
2 min read

Proper protection, treatment can reduce severity of sports eye injuries

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On the court and in the field of play, the risk for sports-related eye injuries is prevalent. Knowing how to properly treat the injuries as well as wearing the proper gear may not only reduce the severity of the injury, but also may prevent eye injury.

“Eye injuries can occur in any sport,” Mitchell S. Fineman, MD, retina specialist at Wills Eye Hospital and ophthalmologist for the Philadelphia Eagles, told Healio/OSN.

The classic example of a sports-related eye injury is from paintball guns, usually due to backyard play, he said.

“These injuries were much more frequent years ago,” Fineman said. “Now, if you ever go to a formal paintball field, they are very strict about the use of protective eyewear. Now, airsoft guns have become very problematic for the same reason.”

When it comes to more traditional sports, Fineman said that basketball, racquetball and boxing are the most common for incurring eye injuries. Many of the eye injuries related to basketball involve fingers and elbows entering the eye.

“A lot of it is the way you play,” Fineman said. “But there’s really not a whole lot you can do to avoid the injury.”

Boxing, Fineman said, is the “No. 1 sport” for eye injuries, but the number of people participating at a full-contact level is small.

The most common eye injuries in sports are corneal abrasions as a result of contact with a finger, elbow or the ball itself, Fineman said. Those injuries often heal within 1 to 2 weeks with the use of antibiotic ointment or eye drops. More serious eye injuries, such as hyphema, are caused by blunt force trauma and can result in permanent damage, including glaucoma.

Other eye-related sports injuries include damage to the orbital bone, which can lead to double vision or sinking of the eye.

In the case of a sports-related eye injury, Fineman recommended:

  • applying ice or a cool compress for any trauma or swelling around the eye;
  • protecting the eye from further damage and manipulation by placing a paper cup around the injured area instead of gauze or an eyepatch; and
  • flushing the eye with water or saline solution if dirt or a foreign body gets into the eye.

Fineman said the use of proper protective eyewear made of polycarbonate is important to reduce the risk for sports-related eye injury.

“If you have a glass lens in your eyewear or sunglasses that are prone to shattering, that can actually cause more damage to the eye than the injury itself,” Fineman said. “Polycarbonate is a shatterproof hard plastic material similar to bulletproof glass that is used in protective eyewear lenses. ... It is very difficult to convince athletes, particularly young ones, to wear protective eyewear because it is not considered cool. That’s why I tell them, ‘Even if you’re not going to wear a full face shield, at least put something between somebody’s finger or elbow and your eye, like a pair of polycarbonate glasses.’”

Fineman said it is important to see an eye care professional for any eye injury.

“There are many types of situations where the injury might appear as a run-of-the-mill injury, but there’s something more serious going on,” he said. “Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent long-term permanent damage to the eye.” – by Earl Holland Jr.

Disclosure: Fineman reports no relevant financial disclosures.