I’ve coached youth sports for several years and I’ve seen all types of injuries occur. Thankfully, most of the the injuries have been minor, but I’ve witnessed a few serious sprains, deep cuts, and bone fractures. At the beginning of each season, I talk to the parents and children about the importance of being safe and wearing the proper protective equipment (BTW – in my former career, I was a safety director).
The most common injuries that I’ve seen are eye injuries. Kids are constantly getting poked in the eye, hit with balls, or struck with an elbow or knee. Each year, more than 600,000 sports-related eye injuries occur. Most of these could have been avoided if parents, coaches, and kids had taken a few precautions.
To help parents better understand how they can help prevent sports-related eye injuries, I’ve asked Dr. Bradley Meltzer, a VSP Vision Care optometrist, to discuss what they should consider before letting their children play sports (disclosure: I’m a paid VSP ambassador).
Dr. Bradley Meltzer: The easiest way to protect children is to require them to wear protective eyewear, even if they do not require eyewear for visual correction. This eyewear uses impact-resistant materials and usually has a strap to tightly secure them on the child.
MD: Some kids don’t like to wear protective eyewear because it is uncomfortable or they feel silly wearing it. How can parents overcome these objections?
Meltzer: Parents can overcome these concerns by introducing the child to sports goggles when they are very young. If they become accustomed to wearing sports goggles, they will become just as comfortable as cleats and pads and other sports equipment. Older children will be surprised to see how far frame makers have come in making more fashionable sports goggles.
MD: What if a family doesn’t have vision insurance? Are there affordable options to protect children’s eyes while playing sports?
Meltzer: Sports goggles are as much a necessity for contact sports as any other piece of equipment. Non-prescription sports goggles are not prohibitively expensive. For most sports, the cost of uniforms and other equipment will be more than the price of a good pair of sports goggles. What really matters is that the glasses or goggles are certified for sports protection.
MD: What are the most common types of sports-related eye injuries?
Meltzer: In sports with fast moving objects—like a baseball, tennis ball or hockey puck—the object can cause direct trauma to the eye. Possible injuries that may occur are retinal tears or detachments, inflammation of the eye (or iritis), a penetrating injury where something punctures the eye, a scratched cornea, bruising around the eyes or even blindness.
MD: Which sports have the most eye-related injuries?
Meltzer: Basketball and baseball are the most common sports that children play, but soccer, tennis, racquetball, volleyball and contact sports, like karate, all share the risk of eye injuries. In basketball, the injuries are more often due to fingers or elbows hitting the eye rather than from the ball itself, whereas in baseball, racquetball and tennis the speed and size of the ball makes for a higher risk of causing blunt trauma to the eyeball.
MD: If a child complains that his/her eyes are bothering him/her, how should parents respond? Should they just wait and see if it improves, or should they seek medical attention?
Meltzer: It is always in the child’s best interest to seek medical advice at the onset of symptoms. You never want to regret not seeking the proper help in a timely fashion.
MD: Kids on my teams often complain about having something in their eye. What is the best way to remove debris from a child’s eyes?
Meltzer: When something gets into a child’s eye, try flushing it with clean water or eye-wash fluid. NEVER rub the eye.
MD: As a youth coach, I’ve seen plenty of black eyes. What is the best way to treat them?
Melter: The first thing to do is to get ice on the eye. If ice packs are not available, placing ice cubes wrapped in a towel on the eye works well. Be gentle when applying the ice to the eye; you don’t want to push on the eye as the area is likely tender and sore. If there are any cuts or lacerations around the bruising, clean them out as well as possible to help prevent an infection from forming.
MD: If a serious sports-related eye injury occurs, how can parents help their children to cope with it?
Meltzer: The most important thing to do is get your child the proper care and attention as soon as possible. Eye trauma is not often visible by just looking at the child or by them looking at his or herself in the mirror. An eye doctor uses a special microscope to get a magnified view of the patient’s eyelids, cornea, iris and lens. Eye doctors also will dilate the child’s eye to look for any retinal tears or bleeding inside of the eye. It is important to let the child know that these tests are necessary to make sure that the eye is healthy and to prevent any further injury.
MD: Many parents are concerned about concussions. Can concussions affect a person’s vision?
Meltzer: Concussions are a very serious injury. Blurry vision, headache and dizziness are common post-concussive symptoms that can affect a child’s visual system. Concussions may also cause issues with eye coordination and tracking. This will impact a child’s ability to play sports, as well as perform well academically. It is important to take seriously the advice of your doctors when recovering from an injury. Too often, children and adults alike feel better and think that they can begin to resume normal activities sooner than their recovering brains are ready. Behavioral optometrists are trained to not only detect vision problems after a concussion, but also to provide visual rehabilitative therapy.
Question: Has your child ever suffered a sports-related eye injury?