Recommending sports eyewear for children

September 15, 2008

Asking young athletes key questions during the eye exam or at the dispensing table can enable eye-care professionals to recommend the appropriate protective eyewear for children involved in sports.

Key Points

If your practice has patients who are children, chances are that most of them participate in some type of sport. For all age groups, sports-related eye injuries occur most frequently in baseball, basketball, and racquet sports. Children aged 5 to 14 are at higher risk, because they are just entering and learning sports, and tend to be more awkward.

Did you know that most all sports-related eye injuries could have been prevented? They can.

As an eye-care professional (ECP), eyewear that protects children's ocular health should be a main focus. After all, it's your professional responsibility to recommend eyewear that is appropriate for your patients' needs. What could be a better example than sports eyewear for children involved in sports?

All sports require some type of specialized gear, whether it is a ball, boots, racquet, skis, or other products. What is missing in most instances is gear to protect eyes. Soccer players, for example, wouldn't dream of playing without cleats, yet they are likely to run around the field with eyewear that just doesn't cut it when it comes to protecting their eyes.

Sports-related eye injuries are classified in low-, moderate-, or high-risk categories. Sports in the low risk division include bicycling, skiing, swimming, and wrestling. Sports with a moderate level of eye risk include football, soccer, volleyball, tennis, badminton, and water polo. Sports at a high level of eye injury (due to small, fast projectiles and finger pokes) are paintball, hockey, squash, baseball, and softball.

What eye injuries might sports enthusiasts suffer? A scratched cornea, inflamed iris, blood spilling into the anterior chamber, traumatic cataract, swollen retina, and a fracture of the eye socket are but a few of the major ones to worry about. Wearing appropriate sports eyeguards can prevent many of these debilitating eye injuries.

The medical factor

Most mothers wouldn't dream of sending their children to play outdoors on a sunny day without first insisting that their kids apply sunscreen. What about UV protection for eyes? As ECPs, it's our responsibility to educate parents to the fact that UV damage is a cumulative process-it becomes worse as more exposure is encountered.

The fix here is an easy one. Sports eyeguards use UV-absorbing lens materials, such as polycarbonate or Trivex. Also, if your little athletic patient plays outdoor sports, it would be a great idea to recommend a photochromic lens material. This photochromic lens will adjust automatically to changing light conditions one might encounter when playing on opposite ends of the field, or under changing weather conditions.

Making the right choice

How do you know which products are appropriate for your active patients? Several ophthalmic standards can help you with this decision.

"Dress" or "street" eyewear is held to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z80.1 standards. ANSI's Z80.1 level of impact testing is designed for everyday eyewear that will be used in activities that have little risk of causing eye injuries. This type of eyewear is definitely not adequate for wear during sports play.

The ANSI Z87.1 standard is designed for eyewear that will be used in settings where the risk of eye injury is high and the impact from a variety of hazards is strong, such as in industrial settings and home workshops. This standard defines two levels of impact resistance-basic and high impact. While eyewear that meets either of those standards is impact resistant to a degree, neither specifically addresses sports needs.

A very helpful standard for choosing proper eyewear for sports is the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). In this standard, eyeguards used for sports are tested as an all-inclusive package. In other words, frames and their associated lenses must pass the appropriate testing. These eyeguards must pass tests of balls flying 90 mph at a variety of impact angles.

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