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Sports That Put Athletes’ Eyes At Risk

Playing sports can be beneficial to athletes’ physical and mental health. Researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine discovered that middle school students who played sports and performed best on tests that gauged strength, endurance and aerobic capacity also performed better academically.

Sports are beneficial in many ways, but playing is not without certain risks, including the potential to cause harm to parts of the body, including the eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says 30,000 sports-related eye injuries are treated in United States emergency rooms each year. However, 90 percent of serious eye injuries can be prevented by wearing protective eyewear.

Different activities put the eyes at varying levels of risk, so some sports are higher risk than others. Sports that use a bat or racquet, ball, or puck are considered high risk for eye injuries. In addition, contact sports, which include American football, rugby and mixed martial arts, also are considered elevated risk for eye injury. Conversely, gymnastics, cycling and swimming are considered low risk. Here’s a closer look at eye injuries, their connection to sports and how to mitigate them.


The AAO says basketball causes the most sports eye injuries in the United States, beating out baseball and softball, pellet guns, racquetball, and even hockey. Using polycarbonate, shatterproof lenses can prevent many eye injuries when playing basketball and other sports. They should be tested to meet the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards or pass CSA racquet sports standards.


Full-contact martial arts and boxing pose extremely high risk of serious eye injury, including blindness. There currently is no satisfactory eye protection for these sports, though thumbless gloves may reduce the risk in boxing.

Face shield

Wearing a helmet with a full plastic face shield when playing sports like hockey or football can shield the eyes from injury.

Eye checkup

It’s a good idea for athletes to get an eye exam so they can discuss risks and preventative measures with their physicians prior to playing.

Eye safety should be a concern for all athletes. Some simple precautions can dramatically decrease athletes’ risk for eye injury.

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