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  • Sports Eye Safety

    Reviewed By Ninel Z Gregori, MD
    Published Jan. 21, 2024

    Nearly 30,000 sports-related eye injuries are treated in U.S. emergency rooms each year, according to the most recent estimates we have. The good news is that 90% of serious eye injuries could be prevented by wearing appropriate protective eyewear.

    How to Prevent and Treat Sports Eye Injuries

    Different activities and sports have different levels of risk for eye injury. Make sure that you’re using the right kind of eye protection for each activity. Regular eyeglasses do not offer proper eye protection and in some cases can make an injury worse if they shatter.

    Be careful during activities or games involving projectiles and other sharp objects that could create injury if in contact with the eye.

    If you have an eye injury go to the emergency room immediately, even if the injury appears minor. Delaying medical attention can result in permanent vision loss or blindness.

    What Sports Cause Eye Injuries?

    Eye injuries can happen in almost any sport, but some sports are higher risk than others.

    Basketball causes most sports eye injuries in the U.S.

    One study found that basketball was the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in the United States followed by baseball, softball, airsoft rifles, pellet guns, racquetball and hockey.

    Protective sports glasses with shatterproof plastic, called polycarbonate lenses, should be worn for sports such as basketball, racquet sports, soccer and field hockey. Choose eye protectors that have been tested to meet the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards or that pass the CSA racquet sports standard. Read our full guidelines about protective eyewear for sports and activities for additional details.

    Combat sports cause blinding eye injuries

    Boxing and full-contact martial arts pose an extremely high risk of serious and even blinding eye injuries. There is no satisfactory eye protection for boxing, although thumbless gloves may reduce the number of boxing eye injuries.

    Sports that require face masks or face shields for eye protection

    In ice hockey and men’s lacrosse, wear a helmet with a polycarbonate face mask or wire shield. Hockey face masks should be approved by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

    Protect Yourself if You Have Vision Loss in One Eye

    If you already have reduced vision in one eye, consider whether it’s worth the risk of injuring your other eye before participating in a high-risk sport. Check with your ophthalmologist to see what appropriate eye protection is available and whether they advise participating in any high impact or other high-risk sports.

    Spectator Eye Safety at Sporting Events

    Spectators at sporting events should also be careful. Balls, bats, and players can end up in the stands at any time. Keep your eyes on the game and watch out for foul balls and flying objects.

    On-the-Field Visual Test Helps Diagnose Concussions in Athletes

    About 3.8 million Americans sustain sports-related concussions each year. A quick, reliable screening test is useful on the sidelines to keep injured athletes from returning to play too soon. An on-the-field visual test helps physicians better diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients with concussions.