Medical content revised by - Last revision 26/01/2017

Athletes are a group who is at a higher risk of suffering from eye damages. Sport practice is one of the main causes of eye traumas. Furthermore, athletes require a specially high definition vision, and a practical optical correction system. Refraction errors such as myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism cause a great discomfort as they lead to high dependence on glasses, which are usually uncomfortable when practising sports.

Eye health risks in athletes

Every type of sport we practice has specific risks for our eye health:

  • In swimming, eye irritations and infections caused by chlorine from swimming pools need to be prevented.
  • In contact sports such as rugby, boxing and martial arts, it is important to wear proper protection in order to avoid direct impacts and/or contusions in our eyes.
  • In ball sports or sports where we use objects that move at a high-speed, such objects might cause eye damage. Therefore, it is necessary to follow specific protection measures. Moreover, we should bear in mind that, sometimes, such contusions may lead to serious eye diseases, such as retinal detachment.

In terms of athletics and open air sports, there is a risk to suffer from sunburns or foreign bodies, such as sand, in the cornea.

Precision sports and vision skills

Some sports require a high precision vision, like shooting sports. This may be altered due to eye problems that affect our aim, such as troubles in binocular vision, fusion and vision response. Some of these alterations are not perceived in early stages, although the do affect the athlete performance.

Moreover, in order to get some permits, such as automotive or shooting permits, it is necessary to undergo and pass some vision exams. Such specific vision exams assess parameters such as static and dynamic vision, peripheral vision and ocular motricity.

How should athletes protect their vision?

Protection against sunlight

The use of protective sunglasses is essential in order to avoid eye damages caused by UV and blue light rays. Eyes need to be protected by means of approved tinted glasses so as to avoid damages in the crystalline lens, the retina or the macula.

Protection against contusions and perforations

Eye trauma is the main cause of blindness among children. The use of protective glasses for sports is essential to avoid such trauma. Safety glasses should be made of polycarbonate and have UV filters. They also need to hold the required European certification for that specific sport.

Use of contact lens

The use of conventional prescription glasses does not offer enough eye protection when practising sports. Therefore, we should use specific prescription safety glasses or combine the use of contact lenses with specific safety glasses.

Although the use of contact lenses provides a higher peripheral vision, avoids mist and limits as little as possible our visual field, they should never be used alone without additional protection when practising sports, as in case of eye trauma they could pose a higher threat to our vision.

Eye diseases related to eye trauma

Lesions caused by eye trauma may lead not only to superficial damages, such as contusions, hemorrhages, lesions in the cornea such as corneal abrasions, or inflammations (iritis and macular edema), but also to deeper damages, such as corneal perforations, orbital bones fractures or the detachment of eye tissues (retinal detachment or vitreous detachment), among others.

In case of any kind of eye damage, it is necessary to go to an eye emergency service as soon as possible.

Some of the most frequent symptoms that patients with eye trauma might experience and that should be warning sign and make them attend an eye emergency service are: eye redness, considerable edema in eyelids, transient or permanent vision loss, pain, floaters and flashers or photopsias.

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