Keeping kids’ eyes safe during sports

Keeping kids’ eyes safe during sports

Every year, hospital emergency rooms treat more than 40 000 sports-related eye injuries, and more than a third of these are children. In fact, sports represent the number one cause of eye injuries in children under the age of sixteen. According to statistics provided by the global Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Student Health Education program, up to 90% of these injuries are preventable.

High risk sports

Any sport that involves a ball, bat, racquet, stick, or a flying object holds a potential risk of eye injury. According to Bernardine Flynn, an optometrist from Mellins i-Style’ in Menlyn Mall, sports with a particularly high risk of eye injury include hockey, water polo, soccer, cricket, tennis and squash. “Active play activities like paintball games can also be dangerous,” she says. “They are a growing cause of blunt eye injuries among children and young adults.”

She explains that blunt trauma is caused when the eye is compressed through sudden impact. “This can be caused by a blow from elbows, fists, or the ball,” she says. “Blunt trauma can range from a mild injury, which may cause a black eye (swelling of the eyelids) or subconjunctival haemorrhage (bleeding behind the conjunctiva), to more severe injuries like a blow-out fracture.”

Sport-specific eyewear

“There are many forms of protective eyewear for children who play sport,” explains Flynn. “The best options are lightweight and sturdy, and the rest depends on the sport. Some of the options include goggles, face masks/guards, and shield sport-specific sunglasses with an anti-fog coating, sport impact designed frames, which have a posterior lip to prevent inward displacement of the lenses.”

Another option is polycarbonate lenses, which Flynn says are used as protective eyewear by sportspeople because they are 20% stronger than other materials used in eyewear. “They are the strongest and lightest lenses available and are therefore an excellent choice for children who play high-impact sport or are involved in ball-impact games,” she says. “Polycarbonate is fully capable of withstanding the impact of a ball travelling at 140km/hr.”

Flynn cautions against wearing normal “dress” spectacles for sports. The South African National Standard for eye protection (which compares to the European Standard for eye protection – EN 166) is SANS 1401.

“Spectacles made for street or office wear are not necessarily made to the same protective standards as safety eyewear and will probably not hold up under impact,” says Flynn. “Spectacle lenses that are not safety-rated could shatter, and frames that are displaced on impact can displace inwards, causing serious eye injuries. Nonetheless, with so many different styles and solutions available, depending on the sports played, one is sure to find the right eye protection. Frame and lens companies are also constantly improving their sports specific designs and technology. That’s why it’s worth checking with your optometrist what eyewear is suitable and offers the best protection for your specific sport.”

Even for sports like golf and cycling, correct eyewear is important. “The harmful effect of extended exposure to UV rays it not often considered,” says Flynn. “While most sunglasses can help block UV rays from entering through the lenses, most frame styles do not prevent rays from reaching the eyes from the side, top or bottom of glasses. You can improve your UV protection by wearing wraparound frames and choosing UV-absorbing or polarised lenses and then wearing a wide-brimmed hat too. UV-blocking contact lenses are also available.”

Certain colour enhancements, such as the amber or rose-tinted lenses often used by golfers, can even help with vision. Flynn explains that these lenses make it easier for the golfer to see the white ball against the sky and fairway, as well as the contours and slopes of the green.

Encouraging the use of protective eyewear on the sports field

Flynn notes that children will only wear protective eyewear for sports if they see others doing the same. “Think of South African cricketer, Mark Boucher, who suffered a torn sclera (the white of the eye) when hit by a ricocheting bail in the eye,” she says. “The irreversible vision loss, extreme sensitivity to light and risk of further damage forced him to immediately retire from international cricket. Following Boucher’s accident, the necessity of protective eyewear worn correctly has been highlighted to protect cricketers’ eyesight. Spectacle-type occupational eye protectors or polycarbonate sunglasses can offer eye protection. Clubs should encourage mandating the use of helmets with protective eyewear for junior wicketkeepers, even if standing back to medium-fast bowlers.”

Flynn believes that schools have a similar responsibility to this as a sports game rule, along with parents. “Luckily, it becomes a bit easier these days when children see their particular sport idol also wearing protective gear,” she says. “As with all good habits, the most effective way to encourage your kids to adopt wearing protective eyewear is to model the behaviour by doing so yourself.”

It’s worth chatting to your optometrist to understand the options available, and to keep your eyes in top condition. “Even if you don’t need glasses or contact lenses normally, regular eye examinations are a great way to make sure your eyes stay healthy and protected, and even enhance your sport performance,” Flynn says. “Just make sure to tell your optometrist which sports you enjoy playing!”

About Mellins i-Style: Mellins i-Style is a national optometry group that strives to be the leaders in the field by ensuring patients receive advanced eye examinations, informative before and after-care services, and customised precision eye technology with optically advanced Zeiss products they can trust. The Mellins-Zeiss Vision Centres use equipment from Zeiss, the world’s most renowned and leading manufacturers in the field of optics. This equipment enables them to offer patients customised precision eye technology with Zeiss i.Scription lenses, arguably the best individualised

lenses in the world, as well as new Zeiss DriveSafe lenses that are specifically designed to improve vehicle drivers’ vision and comfort on the road. With more than 50 Vision Centres countrywide, Mellins i-Style is one of the leading optometry groups in South Africa.