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Eye Injuries Increase in Young Athletes

01/31/2017

Physicians Warn About Lack Of Proper Eye Protection 

Maureen Psyhogeos’ 12-year-old son Bennett was warming up before a little league game when a wayward ball thrown from third base hit him in the eye, fracturing his left eye socket. Luckily, Maureen’s husband was at the field and rushed him to the Emergency Department at Tufts Medical Center, where he had a head and face CT scan. 

“We thought he might lose his eye, or his eyesight,” said Psyhogeos, who happens to work as a critical care nurse at Tufts Medical Center. “So many things go through your mind.” 

Docs See More Injuries

Injuries like Bennett's are surprisingly common. A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology looked at data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, which collects information about emergency room visits to more than 900 hospitals around the country. Researchers specifically looked at data involving eye injuries that had occurred during sports or physical activities over a three-year period, from 2010-2013.  

The study found that basketball, baseball/softball, and air guns were the most common causes of injury, accounting for almost half of all primary sports-related eye injuries. A large majority of the injuries, which account for an estimated 100,000 physician visits each year, occurred in people under 18.  

Mitch Strominger, MD, Director of the Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus Service at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, is not surprised. 

"This doesn't shock any of us who are ophthalmologists," said Dr. Strominger. "I've seen eye injuries in kids as young as five years old from playing soccer." 

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children in the United States, and most injuries occurring in school-aged children are sports-related. And while there's a lot of talk about the dangers of concussions, the possibility of suffering an eye injury while playing youth sports is often overlooked by parents and coaches alike.

"I think it's really about education," said Dr. Strominger. "We need to teach people that eye protection is as important as a helmet." 

Eye Protection Is A Winner

The good news is that up to ninety percent of sports-related eye injuries can be avoided with the use of protective eyewear, according to the NEI. Protective eyewear is usually made of polycarbonate and includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards designed for a particular sport. Regular prescription eyeglasses don’t provide adequate protection. 

Dr. Strominger agrees.  “I think kids should wear sport goggles anytime they're on the field, whether they're practicing, playing in a game, or even just fooling around,” he said. "As soon as you pick up that ball or that stick, you should be wearing eye protection." 

Psyhogeos says Bennett’s eye is almost fully healed. She says she is now a big proponent of wearing eye protection on the field. "I think all kids who play sports should wear protective eyewear,” she said. “Dentists make a big push for mouth guards; this is the same thing."  

Posted 1/30/17

The above content is provided for educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. It is free for educational use. For information about your own health, contact your physician.