A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Watch out for eye injuries in sports and recreation

Illustration of woman with a black eye - Eye injuries in sports and recreation

Most sports-related eye injuries happen in basketball, baseball, racquet sports and similar activities where athletes are at risk for getting hit or poked in the eye.

Getting hit or poked in the eye can happen while playing sports or doing recreational activities. An eye injury may be painful, but that doesn’t mean it’s vision threatening.

“Approximately 30,000 people present to emergency rooms every year with a sports-related eye injury,” said Dr. Asha Okorie, a Marshfield Clinic ophthalmologist. “Most serious injuries can be prevented with proper protection. Some sports require face guards and eye shields that protect athletes from those types of injuries.”

She recommends anyone with preexisting vision problems wear protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses during organized sports and recreational activities where eye injuries are a possibility.

Most sports-related eye injuries happen in basketball, baseball, wrestling and racquet sports such as tennis or racquetball, where athletes are at risk for getting hit or poked in the eye. However, it’s more common to see serious eye injuries from recreational activities involving projectiles such as paintball and air guns.

Okorie explained the types of eye injuries that can happen during sports or play and what to do about them.

Ice is nice for a black eye

A black eye looks bad as the bruising gets worse, but it usually heals well on its own. Use ice packs to reduce pain and swelling.

You can skip a trip to the doctor if you can see normally and move your eye. However, limited eye movement and double vision could mean your eye socket is fractured, and you should be seen in the emergency department.

Give corneal abrasions time to heal

A corneal abrasion is a scratch that can happen when you’re poked in the eye or get debris in your eye. It’s usually painful and causes redness and mild blurred vision.

Don’t rub your scratched eye or wear contact lenses while it is healing. The scratch should heal in a few days.

You should seek emergency medical care if you know that debris is embedded in your eye or your vision is very blurry. For less serious abrasions, you may want your eye doctor to check how the scratch is healing.

Direct eye injuries can cause significant injury

Getting hit directly in the eye by a fast-moving object like a paintball, racquetball or hockey puck calls for an immediate trip to the emergency department. These injuries can lacerate or rupture your eye and lead to severe and permanent vision problems.

“People who have decreased vision, an abnormal shaped pupil or redness over their iris or pupil need to be seen immediately,” Okorie said.

Additional reading

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Shine365: Wear sports safety gear, don’t get sidelined

Shine365: Irritated eyes? Single-use contacts put relief in sight


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