Five steps to protect young athlete’s eyes

Nearly 30,000 people suffer sports-related eye injuries every year. An astounding 90 percent of these ER visits could have been avoided if the athlete wore protective eyewear.

Even the most low-intensity sports activities pose some risk for eye injuries. From basketball to racquetball, from youth leagues to the pros, players need to protect their eyes.

As kids begin to resume their favorite sports, Aspirus Health and the American Academy of Ophthalmology are reminding the public that the best defense against potentially blinding sports-related injuries is wearing protective eyewear.

“Tens of thousands of sports and recreation-related eye injuries occur each year,” said Alissa Pikka, licensed athletic trainer with Aspirus Health. “The right protective eyewear can significantly reduce the risk of eye injuries.”

“Getting athletes of any age to wear protective eyewear is a challenge,” said Pikka. “We hear all the reasons for not wearing eye protection: it’s cumbersome; it will impair peripheral vision; it will fog up. But sports goggles have vastly improved over the years. And if you start your kids early, wearing protective eyewear will become as natural as donning a batting helmet as they step up to the plate.”

Among the common sports-related eye injuries ophthalmologists routinely treat are corneal abrasionsbruising around the eyeretinal detachments and internal bleeding.

Here are some safety tips for all athletes to practice: 

  • Check and follow sport-specific requirements and standards regarding eye protection.
  • Consider replacing eyewear once it is yellowed or damaged to ensure the best protection.
  • For basketball, racquet sports, soccer and field hockey, wear protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses.
  • For snow or water sports, consider eyewear with UV protection to avoid sunburn or glare.
  • Athletes who wear contacts or glasses should still wear eye protection; contacts and regular eyeglasses are not replacements for protective sports eyewear.

If you experience an eye injury, seek medical attention immediately, even if the injury seems minor; sometimes noticeable symptoms develop later.

“Different activities and sports have many different levels of risk for eye injuries,” Pikka said. “Take extreme caution during activities or games that involve projectiles and other sharp objects that could cause injury if they come in contact with your eyes.”

To learn more about the eye health and/or athletic training services offered by Aspirus Health, visit