Olympics pique interest in winter eye care for athletes

February 5, 2018
Learn tips to help patients protect their eyes during winter sports.
Olympics pique interest in winter eye care for athletes

Excerpted from page 46 of the January/February 2018 edition of AOA Focus.

Amber-tinted goggles and mirror-coated sunglasses are more than just fashion statements for Team USA; they're tools of the winter sports trade and a prime icebreaker to discuss seasonal eyewear and care.

Cold, hard competition is what the XXIII Olympic Winter Games are all about as world athletes compete in 102 different snow, ice and sliding events in PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 9-25. But that kind of winter performance necessitates eye and vision care considerations to keep athletes—and weekend sporting enthusiasts alike—on top of their game.

Fred Edmunds, O.D., and Joshua Watt, O.D., AOA Sports & Performance Vision Committee members, offer these suggestions for working with every kind of patient, from professional winter competitors to bunny-slope beginners.

1. Contacts > glasses.

When it comes to outdoor activities and sports, in general, Dr. Edmunds says contact lenses should be the first line of refractive correction.

"Glasses can fog up, they can freeze up and get knocked off, and on top of that, they don't sit under goggles well," he says. "And those goggle inserts aren't optimal for dynamic sports."

However, contact lenses offer athletes freedom from those concerns, as long as other areas unique to cold-weather performance are addressed, such as dryness. One part altitude, one part cold winds makes a perfect recipe for dryness, which is why Dr. Edmunds recommends all his winter athletes carry rewetting or lubricating eye drops.

"You don't want someone taking a downhill run and getting distracted by a dry contact lens," he says. "I like to have athletes prelubricate contact lenses so there's not even a hint of dryness, and we eliminate any kind of instability of the lens on the eye."

2. But if the patient prefers glasses ...

Some patients simply prefer glasses over contact lenses, even in the heat of winter competition, bringing up concerns such as lens fogging.

In addition to prescribing a smudge-resistant, water-repellant lens for noncontact-lens wearers, Dr. Edmunds recommends patients carry fog-repellant wipes to eliminate the inevitable haze.

"You step outside, or get sweaty under your goggles or helmet, and your glasses will immediately fog up," he says. "Fog-repellant wipes are brilliant."

For glasses-wearing athletes, it's also important for doctors to strongly encourage frames and lenses that meet industry safety standards, such as ASTM F803-11 (standard specification for eye protectors for selected sports) or ASTM F659-10 (standard specification for ski and snowboard goggles).

"Regardless of the activity, appropriate coverage is essential," Dr. Watt says. "The choice of amount of coverage is dependent on multiple factors, but most importantly the safety and protection of the athlete's important visual skills.

Goggles versus glasses will depend on the speed, exertion, condensation, UV exposure and potential for flying debris. With cold, dry winter air, many athletes are more susceptible to dry eyes, and the appropriate performance eyewear can help to prevent symptoms from impacting the athlete's performance."

3. Sunglasses aren't just for looks.

The AOA's 2015 American Eye-Q® survey found only 47% of people check UV protection when purchasing sunglasses, and the same number report never wearing sunglasses in wintertime. That said, UV protection is vital for winter sports, considering fresh snow can reflect nearly 80% of UV radiation, and altitude increases UV intensity almost 16% for every 1,000 meters above sea level.

4. More than meets the eye.

Amber, yellow or mirrored gray—those snow goggles and lenses aren't tinted simply for looks, but for a very specific trait unique to each competition.

Want to enhance contrast on dark days or dim lighting? Consider yellow or dark amber tints.

Want to cut bright glare, yet preserve color perception? Go with a gray or black lens.

How about increased color definition and sharpened perception? Try vermillion.

"One tint doesn't cover everything for your athletes," Dr. Edmunds says. "These upper-level competitors really know their tints, and usually they're the ones asking for a specific color."

And don't forget about polarization. That special coating helps to substantially reduce glare and help athletes see objects more clearly. Glare and light sensitivity can hinder performance during any athletic event, Dr. Watt says.

"Polarization can protect against declining performance caused by high reflectivity of the background during winter sports. This component of eyewear may not be necessary for all winter sports but can be the final step for increased comfort and performance."

5. Make the most of chair time.

While the Winter Olympics offer an opportunity to discuss these sports and performance topics with patients, it's also just the beginning. Even during a routine, comprehensive eye examination, use that chair time to chat with patients about their activities and interests. Have they had any issues?

"These could result in obviously better, more personalized care and the patient is always happy to talk about his or her passions," Dr. Edmunds says.

Read more about how sports and performance vision can provide a competitive edge to athletes on page 20 of the April 2017 edition of AOA Focus.

AOA Marketplace offers patient education materials about UV protection, including the "Sunglasses: Healthy Eyes are Always in Style" pamphlet for choosing the right type of sunglasses.

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