Parents: It's that time of year when kids are turning to soccer fields, bike paths and swimming pools.
Ensuring safe vision for youth participating in competitive or recreational sports is essential. That's why the AOA and doctors of optometry are urging parents and kids of all ages to play it safe this spring and summer.
What can parents do to protect their children's vision?
- See your doctor of optometry. A school eye screening is simply not enough. For sports that involve throwing, kicking and catching, kids need a regular, in-person, comprehensive eye exam that focuses on depth perception, contact lens wear, binocularity (how eyes work together as a pair), peripheral vision and more. It's the best way to ensure your child's vision is ready to play.
- Visit aoa.org to find a doctor of optometry for a comprehensive eye exam to regularly assess vision as well as detect and address potential vision problems.
- Avoid metal frames. For children with glasses, provide a pair without metal frames to avoid potential injuries from getting hit with a ball or falling. "Certain sports or activities—such as baseball and handball—require the use of specific safety eyewear," says Karl Citek, O.D., Ph.D., chair of the AOA Commission on Ophthalmic Standards. "Check with your doctor of optometry or the coach to see what you need to keep your child's eyes safe."
- Use sun protection. The AOA's 2017 Eye-Q ® survey found that nearly seven in 10 Americans wear sunglasses while playing outdoor sports. Sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection are important to protect eyes from sun damage. Wearing a hat or helmet also can provide additional protection. "The importance of sun protection for children is often overlooked," Dr. Citek says. "The lenses of their eyes are more transparent than those of adults, allowing shorter wavelength light to reach the retina. Because the effects of solar radiation are cumulative, it's important to develop good protection habits early and have infants and children wear proper sunglasses whenever outdoors. If safety eyewear is required, see if it is available with a tint to avoid bright sun and glare issues. If safety eyewear is not required, sunglasses with plastic frames that fit and contour closely to your child's face and head will protect the eyes not only from direct sunlight but also from the side."
Having fun, playing it safe
Playing sports provides many benefits to children and teens. Yet, a study published in the January 2018 issue of Pediatrics underscores the potential for injury for youth playing sports. According to the study, an estimated 441,800 children were treated in this country's emergency rooms for eye injuries from 1990 to 2012.
The top eye "injuries" associated with sports and recreational activities were corneal abrasion (27.1%), conjunctivitis (10%) and foreign body in the eye (8.5%).
The top activities associated with injuries were basketball (15.9%), baseball and softball (15.2%) and non-powder guns (10.6%). It's worth noting that overall injury rates stayed the same (football) or even dropped (basketball and baseball/softball). However, the number of injuries for non-powder guns such as BB, pellet and paintball guns (nearly 170%) and swimming (142.3%) jumped significantly.
"Pediatric sports—and recreation—related eye injuries remain common," concluded the study's researchers. "Increased prevention efforts are needed, including child, parent and coach education, along with adoption of rules that mandate the use of eye-protective equipment to decrease sports—and recreation—related eye injuries among children."
Good vision can protect children from injury. Doctors of optometry can advise parents and young athletes on sports eye protection, says Keith Smithson, O.D., chair of the AOA Sports & Performance Vision Committee and team doctor of optometry for several Washington, D.C.-area professional sports teams.
"This should encourage all parents to seek a comprehensive vision exam before their child starts any new involvement in a sports activity," says Dr. Smithson regarding the study results. "Doctors of optometry provide a much more comprehensive assessment than a pediatrician screening, and this study, as well as concussion studies, describe the ocular impact of injuries and the potential concussion risks when playing sports without maximized visual skills and protection."
When doctors of optometry look at their patients as athletes—from everyday active individuals to Olympians—they can help them perform better in sports and in all aspects of life. AOA members can access a number of resources to reach out to their community about concussion care.
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