Each year in the United States, there are approximately 600,000 documented sports-related eye injuries. Of these, roughly 72 percent occur in individuals younger than 25 years, and 43 percent in those younger than 15 years.
To support National Public Health Week, the American Public Health Association’s Vision Care Section is emphasizing the importance of protective eyewear for children participating in sports. Sports play a significant role in the lives of most children. While involvement in sports offers a variety of health benefits, participation always carries the risk of injuries, including eye injuries. With children engaged in so many athletic activities, the need for protective eyewear has never been more urgent.
As a parent, caregiver, teacher, school nurse or coach, you can help prevent children’s sports eye injuries by taking the following steps:
1. Know that almost ALL sports-related eye injuries are preventable. Whatever the sport, whatever the child’s age…appropriate protective eyewear is the best defense against eye injury!
2. Learn about the eye injury risks associated with sports before allowing children to participate.
3. Consult an eye doctor for protective eyewear recommendations before enrolling a child in any sports program.
4. Discourage participation in high-risk contacts sports such as boxing, since adequate eye protection does not yet exist for this sport.
5. Only enroll children in after-school organized sports through school districts, community centers, park districts and recreation centers where adults supervise all sports activity.
6. Meet with a child’s coach or athletic trainer to make sure that proper procedures are in place to deal with a child’s eye injury should one occur.
7. Familiarize themselves with the warning signs of an eye injury and know when to seek treatment.
The following symptoms should be treated as medical emergencies – requiring immediate attention at a hospital or by an eye doctor:
· Blurred vision that does not clear with blinking
· Loss of all or part of the field of vision
· Sharp stabbing or deep throbbing pain
· Double vision
· Something on the cornea (the clear membrane that covers the iris)
· Cut or torn eyelid
· Cut, scratched or punctured eye
· One eye that does not move as completely as the other
· One eye that protrudes more than the other
· Layer of blood between the cornea and iris.
The American Public Health Association addresses this issue in its “Promoting the Use of Protective Eyewear for Children in Sports” policy statement. Among those efforts promoted in this statement are recommendations to enact state legislation across the country that would require eye protection for children playing sports; to encourage health educators and facilitators of sports programs to teach the value of quality fitted sports protective eyewear; to conduct studies on the cost-effectiveness of sports protective eyewear; and the employment of risk management strategies by insurance companies promoting the use of protective eyewear.
Upwards of 90 percent of sports eye injuries can be prevented through the proper use of protective eyewear. Injuries can range from temporary to permanent vision loss. This is indeed a public health concern that must be addressed.