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In the United States, 38,000 sports-related eye injuries are reported each year, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many could be prevented if the athletes had been wearing protective eyewear, such as safety goggles with polycarbonate lenses.

Ski goggles are a must, and so are face shields (either "cages" or clear polycarbonate shields) for baseball or softball catchers, and hockey, football, and paintball players. Racquet sports (e.g., racquetball, tennis, squash, badminton, etc.) account for a significant number of sport-related eye injuries. Nonetheless, the most popular sports (i.e., basketball, baseball, and football) have the most numbers of such injuries because of the larger numbers of participants in these sports.

The sad part about these eye injuries is that they often result in permanent damage, and over 90% of the injuries sustained could have been prevented. A deflected ball, flailing finger or whack of a racquet are all big offenders when it comes to eye trauma. Mother Nature, however, is just as likely to be a guilty party. Rocks, dust, water and gravel are all can cause eye injuries.

Sports-related eye injuries can produce anywhere from minimal eye damage (scratches and/or abrasions) to injuries that can result in permanent loss of vision or even the loss of the eye itself (ocular hemorrhages, retinal detachments, open globe injuries, etc). Obviously, this depends on the nature of the injury.

Many athletes don't enjoy wearing glasses, because they can fog up or slip down. They also don't provide peripheral vision as good as that obtained with contact lenses. However, prescription polycarbonate goggles with a wraparound strap, like the kind Kareem Abdul Jabbar wore on the court, are a good solution. And many kids think they're cool because Jabbar wore them.

Never use "dress" eyewear during sports. Glasses made for street or office wear are not made to the same standard as safety eyewear and will probably not hold up under impact. Not only will they shatter or bend, but pieces of the lens or frame can cause eye or face injury.

Tips when choosing your sport eyewear

  1. If you wear prescription glasses, make sure you either get prescription eyewear or goggles that can be used with prescription eyewear.
  2. Buy name brand sport specific goggles from a reputable dealer.
  3. Don't buy sports eye guards without lenses. Only "lensed" protectors are recommended for sports use.
  4. Fogging of the lenses can be a problem when you're active. Some goggles are available with anti-fog coating. Others have side vents for additional ventilation.
  5. Check the packaging to see if the eye protector you select has been tested for sports use. Polycarbonate eye guards are the most impact resistant.
  6. Sports goggles should be padded or cushioned along the brow and bridge of the nose. Padding will prevent the eye guards from cutting your skin. In goggles designed for skiing the padding will help keep out snow and debris.

If a sports-related injury does occurs, the athlete should be referred to a medical facility or to an eye care professional (ophthalmologist or optometrist) immediately if they experience:

  1. blurred vision that does not clear within a few minutes,
  2. loss of all or part of their field of vision,
  3. eye pain that does not subside in a few minutes,
  4. double vision,
  5. flashing lights or
  6. bleeding on or inside the eye.

If there is ever any doubt as to the nature of the eye injury, then the athlete should discontinue participating in the sport and should immediately consult an eye care professional.

Protective Eyewear Features

Protective sports eyewear is available in either a goggle design or a shield. Goggles offer better protection than shields.

Regardless of which design you prefer, the frame should cover the entire socket and not just the eyeball. If you select a shield, look for a frame that fits closely to the face, so as to minimize the potential for a finger to get underneath and displace the frame. The frame should have padding at the temple and bridge. This will absorb some of the shock to lessen the overall impact, and will limit damage the frame may cause to the face.

An elasticized band is best to hold the frame in place. Regular temples will not secure the frame tightly enough and a finger could displace the frame and end up in your eye. In addition to having an impact resistant lens, the frame must also be able to withstand impact. Frames molded with propionate are lightweight and offer strength and flexibility

The key element to look for in protective eyewear is polycarbonate lenses since they are virtually unbreakable and can sustain the impact of a ball or racquet. Safety is not the only reason to use sport specific eyewear. Performance levels can be increased when the the issues affecting poor vision are addressed. Visual aquity and clarity are important factors in insuring good vision and performance in any outdoor activity.

Color Enhancement
Some tinted sports sunglasses enhance particular colors, such as yellow, by filtering other colors out. Specially tinted contact lenses, such as yellow-enhancing soft contacts and tinted RGPs, can do the same thing. (Don't confuse these light-filtering lenses with regular color contacts, which are tinted in order to change the color of your eyes, but don't affect the colors you see in the environment.) Yellow enhancement is particularly desirable in tennis, where balls are usually yellow.

Other contact lenses are being developed to enhance certain colors for golfers, skiers, trap-shooters, and more. Amber or rose ski goggle lenses enhance the soft grays that mark shadows on a ski slope. Since these shadows indicate ridges or bumps in the surface, skiers "read" them to decide when to turn, so they won't catch an edge and fall.

Light Control
Polarized sports sunglasses reduce glare so athletes can see the ball or other players better. Anti-reflective lens coating is another glare reducer that works even at night, if you're playing under bright lights. Another light control lens is a photochromic. This changes from clear or almost clear to a light or dark sunlens, depending on how much light is around you. Photochromic lenses are terrific for golf, where you're moving from light to shade when walking from one hole to the next. In fact, they work for any outdoor sport on days when it's partly sunny, partly cloudy. With anti-reflective coating applied, they also reduce glare.

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