In youth sports, while kids may determine the winner based on score, parents determine the winner based on who walked away with fewer bruises and scrapes. Everyone can be a winner, however, as sports injuries to the eyes—which generally result from high-contact activity—can usually be avoided with some preventative care and protection.
Low-risk sports include those that don’t utilize balls, pucks, sticks, bats, or other potentially eye-poking implements. Also, from a numbers standpoint, there’s a positive correlation between eye injuries and body contact in sports. The correlation between protective gear and eye injuries is highly contested—ever since the release of the book Concussion, it’s become clear that protective gear can give wearers the illusion of greater safety, so they behave more recklessly and sustain more serious injuries.
Eye injuries usually come in a few distinct categories. Blunt trauma injuries occur from direct force coming into contact they eye with the area around the eye: for example, being hit by a ball or accidentally jabbed by another player. Often, these injuries result in a black eye and swelling, but in extreme cases, they can result in a broken eye socket or the eye actually detaching from the retina. Penetrating injuries happen when an object cuts the eye itself, and broken glasses and fingernails can both cause penetrating injuries. Lastly, radiation injuries are caused by sun exposure. Outdoor sports—including snow sports, water sports, cycling, and baseball—leave players at the highest risk of exposure to this kind of injury.
Before enrolling yourself or a child in a high-risk sporting activity, talk with your eye doctor about how best to protect your eyes. Contrary to popular belief, eyeglasses offer no protection whatsoever. Instead, contact lenses and goggles may protect the eyes more effectively. For outdoor sports, sunglasses can prevent radiation injuries as long as they’re shatterproof and block out harmful UV rays.
On average, most adults can’t detect or properly diagnose injuries to the eye, so if you suspect your child has sustained an eye injury, take them to a professional as soon as you can. If your child is experiencing headaches that seem to emanate from the eyes, pussing from the eyes, or cuts in/around the eye, take them to an eye doctor immediately. Mistreated or misdiagnosed eye injuries can lead to partial to total vision loss and infections.