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Watch Your Eyes When Playing Sports: Ophthalmologists Recommend Eye Protection for All Athletes

Sean Peterson was looking forward to spending some time with his friends playing paintball one spring weekend. As a former college basketball player, Sean enjoys sports, and paintball seemed like a fun opportunity to employ some of his athletic skills. But what started out as an enjoyable outing eventually turned into a medical emergency. Sean moved his protective mask briefly, and in that brief interval, a paintball hit him in his left eye.

"After the hit, all I could see was a green blur," Sean recalls. "I went to the emergency room, where I was told that I would probably be blind in my left eye." Fortunately, after multiple surgeries, Sean has nearly regained his 20/20 vision, but not without some lingering effects from the injury. "I'm still very sensitive to light and I can't read up close out of my left eye", said Sean, who still continues to play sports but has not played paintball since.

During the spring and summer more people head outdoors to play sports and engage in fitness activities. The American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds the public that 40,000 people suffer from eye injuries related to sports every year. The Academy advocates the need for athletes to wear appropriate, sport-specific protective eyewear properly fitted by an eye care professional. Lenses made from polycarbonate materials provide the highest level of impact protection; they can withstand a ball or other projectile traveling at 90 miles per hour.

"It's absolutely necessary for athletes to use protective eyewear because eye injuries can be devastating," said Dr. Ruth Williams, glaucoma specialist at the Wheaton, Ill., Eye Clinic, clinical correspondent for the Academy and Sean Peterson's doctor. "Unfortunately, many athletes feel they don't need protective eyewear or that injuries are uncommon. The truth is, many athletes are not as lucky as Sean."

In addition to abrasions of the cornea and bruises of the lids, sports injuries can include retinal detachments and internal bleeding. The most serious risks involve permanent vision loss along with infection. In addition, patients who have sustained eye injuries are at greater risk for developing glaucoma.

Many sports create risk for eye injuries; however, protection is available for most sports, including basketball, baseball, hockey, football, lacrosse, fencing, paintball, water polo, golf and many others. "Wearing properly fitted protective eyewear will not harm your performance in a game, and it may well save your sight," says Dr. Williams.

Most sporting leagues don't require children to wear eye protection, so parents should take special care to ensure their children wear eye protection. "Parents can spare their children needless injury and pain by having them wear protective eyewear," says Dr. Williams.

In the event of an eye injury, it is important to seek medical help immediately. Even a seemingly light blow can cause a serious eye injury. If a black eye, pain or visual problem occurs after a blow, contact your Eye M.D. or seek emergency medical help at once.

Learn about eye diseases, your risk factors and the names of eye physicians in your area by visiting

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, with more than 27,000 members worldwide.

For more information on the American Academy of Ophthalmology , visit

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