Sports injuries called leading cause of vision loss in children

Sports are about fun and games, but about 30,000 people in the U.S. go to emergency departments each year with sports-related eye injuries, a new study suggests.

Eye injuries are a significant cause of illness and disability in Canada and the U.S.

“We believe that sports eye injuries are the largest cause of vision loss in children,” said Keith Gordon, vice-president of research at CNIB.

In this week’s issue of the journal JAMA Ophthalmology, U.S. and Swiss researchers analyzed data on 30 million emergency department visits across the U.S. from 2010 to 2013 to look at the burden of sports-related eye trauma.

The incidence peaked during adolescent years.

The investigators found basketball (23 per cent), baseball or softball (14 per cent)  and shooting air guns or paintball guns (12 per cent) were the top three causes of sports-related eye injuries among males.

“For basketball, it’s been known for a while that this is a serious cause of eye injuries,” said study author R. Sterling Haring of the Centre for Healthcare Quality and Patient Safety at the University of Lugano in Switzerland.

In basketball, the injuries can result from a direct hit to the eye or when someone goes up for shot or rebound and they’re elbowed, Haring said. “It can break bones, it can break nasal bones near the eye. It can be a serious injury.”

In baseball, there’s less human to human contact, but there are 90 m.p.h. balls coming near the eye.

Peer pressure interferes

Although most injuries resulting from sports-related activities were superficial, more than one-fifth of baseball-related injuries fractured the bones around the eye’s orbit, which can cause serious problems.

The air gun injuries happen on weekends outside of school-sponsored sports, Haring said.

Most of the injuries, 81 per cent, occurred to males.

The solution, wearing polycarbonate eye protection, is tried and true. In elite hockey for instance, injuries declined substantially visors were introduced, Haring noted. But that hasn’t helped for non-organized recreational sporting activities.

“With male athletes, I’m sure that there’s a belief that, hey, you’re looked upon as being a bit of a wuss if you wear protection,” said Gordon. “But we know that is not the case.”

Among females, baseball or softball (19 per cent) was the most common cause of injury, following by cycling (11 per cent) and soccer (10 per cent).

“We tend to think of soccer as leading to injuries of knees or legs but nobody ever thinks of the potential for eye injuries in soccer,” Gordon said.

Gordon suspects the eye injury rates in sports are similar in Canada, but there is no recent national data. 

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