University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
H. Culver Boldt, MD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Science
First Published: November 2000
Last Revision Date: February 2004
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
It's an oft-used sports cliche that "injuries are part of the
game." But a serious eye injury from sports or recreational
activities can hinder much more than your time on the court or in the
Of the 2.5 million eye injuries that occur every year in the
United States, around 10 percent are sports or recreation-related,
according to the Prevent Blindness America organization. The majority
of these injuries occur in younger people: nearly three-quarters of
sports and recreation eye injuries affect people under age 25 and
about half affect children under age 15.
"Children comprise a large percentage of sports-relate0d eye
injuries because so many kids are involved in sports," says Dr. H.
Culver Boldt, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University
of Iowa College of Medicine and a staff physician at the UI Hospitals
and Clinics. "Also, a child's physical development and athletic
immaturity, coupled with their fearless abandon when playing, tends
to put them at greater risk for an eye injury."
Most eye injuries occur in basketball, partly because so many
people play this particular sport. Injuries occur more from flying
elbows or fingers than the ball itself. "If a basketball hits you in
the face, the bones around the eye socket usually prevent the ball
from making direct contact with the eye: Boldt says. "However, a
finger or elbow to the eye can distort the shape of the eye
significantly. Blood vessels get stretched and can break, causing
bleeding. Retinal detachment is also a concern."
Protective eye wear is a good idea for many sports and
recreational activities, particularly if you've had an eye injury
before. Are certain kinds of sports goggles better? That depends on
the nature of the sport you're playing and the health of your
"For relatively non-contact sports, like tennis, your eye care
professional can put strong, impact-resistant plastic lenses in a
pair of eyeglass frames," Boldt says. "It's preferable to use a frame
that's sturdier and thicker so that if a ball hits the lens, the lens
won't pop out of the frame toward the eye."
For higher risk sports--such as basketball, racquetball and
handball--Boldt recommends sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses.
"Goggles protect the eyes from the sides, as well as the front.
You'll need a strap to hold the goggles on, so they won't get knocked
off by sudden movements."
Polycarbonate is great for protection, Boldt says, although the
material scratches easier than other plastics. Non-scratch coatings
can be purchased to protect the goggle lenses. Prices for protective
eye wear vary, depending on the type of frame and whether
prescription lenses are needed. "Some prescriptions can be expensive,
so another option is wearing contact lenses and goggles with
non-prescription lenses. Your eyes will be protected and it may be
less costly," Boldt says.
Parents should also schedule a dilated eye exam for their
children, starting around age five or six, before the child begins
athletics. "Your ophthalmologist should be able to detect any
abnormalities that may suggest a more serious condition if an eye
injury occurs," Boldt says.