Fergus Falls Optometric Center
"Family Eyecare from the Eyecare Family."
Dr. Mark D. Olmsted and Dr. Christine A. Olmsted
117 E. Lincoln Ave.
Fergus Falls, MN 56537
Appointments: 218-736-7555

Safer Eyes During Sports - 14 Feb 2000

Safer Eyes During Sports
14 Feb 2000

Safer Eyes During SportsOf the 35,000 to 40,000 Americans who suffer sports-related eye injuries each year, more than 90 percent could have prevented injury by practicing proper eye safety and protecting their eyes, the Better Vision Institute (BVI) says. These numbers only reflect the REPORTED injuries and estimates of up to 100,000 are common. A National Society to Prevent Blindness study also points out that children are especially prone to these injuries and account for 44% of the incidents. No matter what the source of information, the point stands out in a large way: the public need to be more aware of and proactive in preventing these types of potentially blinding injuries. This is why Prevent Blindness America has designated April as Sports Eye Safety Month.

Sadly, the eye damage from sports injuries is often devastating and permanent. They include actual eye loss, complete blindness of the affected eye, retinal detachment, hyphema (bleeding inside the eye), corneal abrasions and lacerations. Associated injuries related to the eye include blowout fracture of the floor of the ocular orbit (eye socket), where the bone wall below the eye shatters and the eye muscles get trapped in the shards causing double vision.

Seek emergency eyecare attention if you are hit in the eye by a high speed object, especially if you experience a change in your vision, pain, double vision or have a black eye. With prompt attention, eyesight often can be preserved even after severe injuries. Subsequently, anyone with these types of injuries should be examined yearly and have a dilated internal eye evaluation. Most retinal detachments secondary to injury result more than two years after a blow to the eye. Similarly, hyphema can cause glaucoma years later.

Risk factors for eye injury include the skill level of the athlete in the sport being played. This is why children need to especially be protected. Adequate eye protection is extremely important for people with amblyopia, low vision, a blind eye, or anyone with a history of eye surgery, as they may be at greater risk of blindness after suffering an eye injury. Polycarbonate, the most shatter-resistant of all optical lens materials, is a necessity in ALL types of eyewear for these individuals and children, whether its for sports or everyday wear.

Other factors that increase the risk of eye damage include the sport one plays. Low risk sports don't involve a ball, bat or racquet. These include activities like track and field and swimming. However, for swimmers it's still a good idea to wear goggles to protect one's eyes from pool chlorine or micro-organisms in lakes.

Moderate risk sports include anything with a ball, striking equipment like a bat, and team sports. Sports eye injuries most often result from being hit by a ball or from being poked in the eye with a body part of a teammate or an opponent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of basketball fame suffered a bad corneal abrasion during his career from a fingernail, which caused him continued difficulty with a painful condition called recurrent corneal erosion. This is when the healed area of the scratch continues to tear open, usually upon opening one's eyes in the morning or during the night. Sports fans from the 1970's will remember that he was one of the first high profile sports figures to use protective eyewear while practicing his trade.

High risk athletic activities are sports with direct physical contact such as martial arts, boxing and wrestling.

Unfortunately, there is very little protection that can be afforded for these athletes. Wearing headgear during boxing and karate, etc. at least offers a chance to cause blows to glance around the eye to a degree.

Of course, the at-risk people mentioned before should not partake in these types of sports. Also, highly nearsighted people are at greater risk for retinal detachment than most. Dr. Mark has seen retinal detachments in both a professional boxer and an amateur karate enthusiast The boxer had symptoms, but ignored them until it was too late to fix the problem properly. He could only count fingers a few feet away with the damaged eye after surgery. The karate competitor had NO SYMPTOMS. His retinal detachment was caught early enough during a routine dilated internal eye exam, to be well repaired after a surgical referral. The point being that another way to decrease one's risk, if one likes these activities, is to get annual preventative eye examinations with pupil dilation from an eyecare professional. Be sure to tell your eye doctor the types of sports in which you participate.

Racquet sports deserve special notoriety in this subject. Aggressively played, close-quartered games like racquetball, squash, and doubles tennis with net play also cause high risk for eye injuries. Even badminton, which is popular with our neighbors to the north, has become the most common cause of racquetsport related eye injury in Canada. Racquetballs travel up to 145 mph when hit by a skilled player. Even a 12 year old beginner can hit the ball at 80 mph. Handballs and racquetballs are both small enough to perfectly hit the eye within the socket. All enthusiasts of these games, should wear polycarbonate lenses in sports frames. The older style narrow-slit sports frames without lenses do NOT provide adequate protection. A ball traveling at these velocities can still strike the eye through the slit.

What kind of eyewear should one wear during athletics? The short answer is sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses. Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contacts may break in the eye if struck with a ball, causing painful corneal abrasions or lacerations which can actually rupture the eye. Soft lenses are safer than RGPs in sports but afford no protection. Streetwear glasses, in which either the lens or the frame hinge may break into the eye, are not safe for moderate to high risk sports and could even increase the risk of damage.

So, what does one look for when purchasing eye protection for sports? We've talked alot about polycarbonate lenses already, but the frames should be of a sports design suitable for each individual activity.

All sports frames should have no hinge. They usually stay on the head with an elastic strap or a special strap which drapes the top of the head and fits under a football or hockey helmut. The helmut designed frames tend to have a flatter top to fit inside better. Goggles for basketball are made to be larger and rounder to afford better peripheral vision. There are some "cross-trainer" types which can work for racquetsports, baseball and more. All of these specialty glasses can be made in one's prescription, including swimming goggles.

Fans and participants of outdoor sports should protect their eyes from ultraviolet light. Polycarbonate lenses block 99% of harmful UV rays whether they are tinted or clear. Since May will be Ultraviolet Awareness Month let's discuss this further.

The depletion of the ozone layer has become a serious problem for the health of the world's population. As the ozone layer depletes, we are becoming more and more exposed to harmful ultraviolet radiation. UV effects all parts of our bodies, including our eyes. UV has been proven to cause various eye problems, such as cataracts, sunburn to the eyelids, pterygium (a growth on the eye surface), skin cancer around the eyes, and macular degeneration, one of the leading causes of vision loss among older Americans.

Ultraviolet is the invisible part of light, made up of UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. Ultraviolet light is found between 50 nanometers and 380 nanometers (wavelength of light), whereas visible light is between 381 nanometers and 770 nanometers. The term UV 400 stems from this. It is recommended that you protect yourself from UV radiation up to 400 nanometers, which extends into part of the visible spectrum, to ensure complete blockage of ultraviolet light. It is important to purchase quality sunwear which blocks not only UVB and UVC, but also UVA. UVA rays are known to cause cataracts and pterygium.

Many other factors affect the amount of UV that will actually reach your eyes. Reflections off the earth's surface also compounds the effects. Earth and grass reflect 5%, sand 17%, water 20%, and snow 85%. This is why it is so important to wear eyewear with UV protection when participating in outdoor sports. Clouds and haze may also increase the amount of radiation reaching the ground. The seasons and the time of day also make a difference. Contrary to what you might may assume, UV radiation is greater in the winter and spring, than it is in summer. In fact, it is almost 17 times more instense in the winter and spring, compared to summer. Also, at noon, the amount of radiation is ten times more than during other hours. Altitude also increases radiation, with an increased intensity of 16% for every 1000 meters above sea level. Thus, those participating in winter sports should take the necessary precautions. Pharmaceutical drugs, such as tetracyclene, may also increase your susceptibility to UV radiation. Check with your doctor if you are on any medications before any extended outdoor activities.

In addition to polycarbonate lenses and good sunglasses, how else can one protect one's eyes from UV radiation? Plastic lenses can be treated with a UV blocking coat. Photochromic lenses, which change darker from sunlight exposure also block UV. Polarized lenses block most UV and are excellent for decreasing glare off snow or water for snowmobilers, cross-country skiiers and fishermen. Sports fans wearing ultrathin hi-index plastic are guarded against ultraviolet light. Don't forget, that by simply wearing a billed hat or cap while in the sun, you block a fair amount of UV from your face and eyes.

For more information on eye related issues and preventative eyecare, visit the following websites: Fergus Falls Optometric Center, Ltd. (www.ffoc.com); The American Optometric Association (www.aoanet.org); Prevent Blindness America (www.preventblindness.org).

Drs. Mark Olmsted