Sports Eye Safety


Concerned about the increase in the number and severity of eye injuries in sports, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) designated April as Sports Eye Safety Month several years ago. Each year, more than 45,000 athletes go to hospital emergency rooms with some type of eye-related injury. Children make up more than 50 percent of athletes with eye injuries severe enough to seek treatment.

According to the AAO, the three leading causes of eye injuries among athletes include contact with a high-speed ball, contact with a fast-moving piece of sports equipment, or as the result of aggressive conduct by another player. Unfortunately, young people often lack the physical coordination, strength, and experience to avoid these types of injuries. This is the reason that the AAO pushes for protective eye gear such as goggles and batting helmets with a face mask. The organization states that proper eye protection could prevent 90 percent of eye-related sports injuries.

AAO Eyewear Recommendations by Sport

Eye injuries occur the most often in basketball, baseball, and sports where the player uses a racquet for athletes of all ages. Full-contact martial arts and boxing also present an extremely high risk of eye injuries, which may include permanent loss of sight. Currently, no satisfactory type of protective eyewear exists for boxers. However, using gloves that do not cover the thumb can decrease the number of serious injuries.

For baseball, hockey, and lacrosse, the AAO advises players to wear a helmet that includes a facemask made from polycarbonate materials or a wire shield for the entire game. American hockey players should look for a helmet approved by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council. A strong helmet made of lightweight and shatterproof plastic also protects players from the risk of concussion, a condition that can have a severe impact on eyesight.

For baseball, field hockey, soccer, and all racquet sports, players should wear eye protection with polycarbonate lenses. The AAO recommends that coaches, parents, and players look for eyewear that has passed inspection from the American Society of Testing and Materials. For racquet sports, the protective eyewear should pass the CSA racquet sports standard.

The AAO advises potential athletes who already have an injury or reduced vision in one eye to seriously consider whether playing is worth the risk of damaging the other eye. For those who still wish to play sports, the organization recommends scheduling an appointment with an ophthalmologist to discuss eyewear safety and to get a professional opinion regarding participating in sports.

How to Recognize and Treat an Eye Injury

Eye injuries don’t always appear serious when they first occur. Regardless of the severity, the injured person should visit an ophthalmologist for an evaluation as soon as possible. Avoiding or delaying getting care will only make the eye injury worse and could even cause permanent loss of vision.

While it’s important to recognize an eye injury, the injured person or those around him or her should not attempt to treat it on their own. Seek immediate medical attention at an emergency department or urgent care center in the Western Maryland Health System (WMHS) for any of these eye-related symptoms:

  • Torn or cut eyelid
  • The injured person has difficulty seeing or has obvious eye pain
  • One eye protrudes further than the other eye
  • One eye doesn’t move as well as the other eye
  • Blood appears in the clear part of an eye
  • The pupil or eye itself has an unusual shape or size
  • The injured person complains of something under the eyelid or in the eye that he or she can’t remove

For a cut or puncture to the eye, it’s okay to place a shield over it very gently. Taping the bottom of a paper or Styrofoam cup to the bone that surrounds the eye is adequate to serve as a temporary shield until the person receives medical attention. However, don’t rinse the eye with water or apply pressure, rub the eye, touch the eye, try to extract an object stuck in the eye, or apply ointment to the eye. Additionally, don’t give the injured athlete ibuprofen, aspirin, or any other type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug as these can increase bleeding in the eye.

If someone suffered a blow to the eye during a sports game, he or she can apply a cold compress to help reduce and relieve swelling. However, remember not to apply any pressure to the eye. The athlete should go to the emergency room if he or she receives a black eye after a blow or experiences any visual disturbance or pain. Keep in mind that it often only takes a light blow to the eye to cause a significant injury.

When a player has something stuck in an eye, he or she can try blinking several times to attempt to produce tears. This can help to flush out the particle. If repeated blinking doesn’t work, the injured athlete should keep his or her closed and seek immediate medical attention.

UPMC Western Maryland cares about eye safety and health for all patients. We encourage you to schedule regular eye exams, even if your vision seems fine. Like other types of preventive care, eye exams sometimes uncover conditions that might have gone undetected for years otherwise.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.