‘Use of appropriate and protective eye wear can significantly reduce sports-related eye injuries.’
The study Epidemiology of sports-related eye injuries in the United States
was written by R. Sterling Haring, DO, MPH, Isaac D. Sheffield, BS, Joseph K. Canner, MHS, and Eric B. Schneider, PhD and published in JAMA Ophthalmology
Researchers found that basketball and cycling were the two sports most likely to cause eye injuries.
About 21% of baseball and softball injuries resulted in fractures of the bones around the eye, which often require surgery to repair.
"These are one-time injuries that can have lifelong impacts on the ability to gain an education, to earn a livelihood, to read or drive a car," says the study's leader, R. Sterling Haring, DO, MPH, a DrPH candidate in the Bloomberg School's Department of Health Policy and Management.
This problems needs to be recognized on the policy level and on the personal level.
For the study, Haring and his colleagues analyzed the Nationwide Emergency Department Survey, which contains discharge data on approximately 30 million annual emergency room visits to more than 900 hospitals nationwide.
Over the course of the study, from 2010 to 2013, 120,847 patients arrived at the emergency room with sports-related eye injuries, making up roughly 3% of all eye injuries.
Over 60% of the injured males and 67% of females were age 18 or younger.
"These numbers represent only the injuries coming to the emergency room," Haring says. "Once you account for the number of people going to urgent care centers, community eye doctors or primary care physicians, the numbers are probably much higher."
Among males, the researchers found, the riskiest sports for eye injuries were basketball (26%), baseball or softball (13%) and air guns (13%).
For females, the riskiest sports were baseball or softball (19%), cycling (11%) and soccer (10%).
Lacerations were the most common injuries, followed by contusions.
The prominent role of cycling and soccer in these injuries was especially surprising, as these have not traditionally been considered high-risk activities, Haring says.
"Thousands of cycling-related eye injuries occur each year," Haring says. "Many of these could probably be prevented by something as simple as wearing wrap-around sunglasses."
Other sports, however, require more serious eye protection.
While visual impairment was generally rare in the sports injuries analyzed, 26% of all cases of visual impairment were due to air and paintball guns.
Previous research has shown that appropriate protective eyewear can significantly reduce the incidence of sports-related eye injuries.
In sports such as hockey, the use of visors to protect the eyes has prevented many serious eye injuries that were once common in the sport. Other research, he says, has shown that when appropriate eyewear is available but not mandatory, top-performing athletes frequently choose to wear it.
Researchers hope that they can identify ways to get more athletes of all ages and skill levels to wear appropriate protective eyewear.
"While brain injuries such as concussions are getting a lot of attention these days, everyone from Little League coaches to weekend warriors need to understand that there are real risks to the eye when playing sports," Haring says. "Now that we recognize what sports may be most hazardous to the eye, we need to look for the best ways to prevent these injuries."