Each year, millions of kids play youth sports. Many of them do it to make friends and have fun, but they also enjoy the additional benefit of staying in shape. However, while youth sports do lead to improvements in kids’ health through regular physical activity, they also carry a risk of injury. In fact, a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Ophthalmology revealed that eye injuries in youth sports are on the rise and can have serious effects.
The researchers analyzed data from nationally representative emergency departments between 2010 and 2013 to determine which activities led to the most sports-related eye injuries, and they found basketball, baseball, and air guns were the largest offenders. For cases of impaired vision resulting from sports injuries, the most common causes were “activities involving projectiles” like paintball and air guns. Altogether, the study accounted for 120,847 children with “sports-related ocular trauma” over the course of the study period; however, the number of youth sports-related eye injuries may be even higher than that since the study only looked at individuals who visited an emergency room and not an ophthalmologist or other eye specialists.
The study shows that eye injuries in youth sports are a much larger problem than people may have originally thought. Much of the attention for sports-related injuries goes to more dramatic problems, like concussions, although there are other serious conditions–like eye injuries–that need to be addressed. There’s also a need to study the long-term effects of sports-related eye injuries.
Now that the problem has been identified, what can parents, coaches, and doctors do to help reduce the number of eye injuries in youth sports? The first step is to protect young players’ eyes. This can be done through the use of shatterproof, wraparound goggles that completely cover the eye. These glasses can help to prevent balls, projectiles, and even players’ fingers, elbows, and other extremities from smashing and scratching into someone’s eye and causing damage. Right now, goggles and other forms of eye protection are not required in many youth sports programs, but adding them to the team uniform would certainly be worth it if it means keeping our children’s eyes safer.