recently sat down with Dr. Jill Beyer to talk about eye safety and eye injuries for athletic competition. Dr. Beyer is a staff optometrist in the cornea and refractive department at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and the Director of the contact lens department. Dr. Beyer is also an associate professor at the New England College of optometry.

What are the most common eye injuries as a result of athletic participation
Corneal abrasions or scratches on your eye, subconjunctival hemorrhage which is a broken blood vessel in the white part of the eye, retinal detachments resulting from a serious blow to the eye, traumatic cataracts which can also result from a blow to the eye, and many people have problems with a foreign body in their eye like a piece of dust or glass.

What is the recovery process for these types of injuries
A sub conjuntizal hemorrhage will go away on its own in 2 or 3 weeks. A corneal abrasion needs antibiotics do reduce the chance of infection and the recovery process is anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks, some foreign bodies (dust, sand, glass) cause scars and can effect your vision if they are in your field of vision, so if you had a piece of glass or a small object stuck in your eye for an extended period of time, it can leave an impression or a scar on your eye. If you think you are suffering from a retinal detachment or have been hit in the eye very hard you need to be seen usually within 24 hours by an eye professional as your vision would be wavy, and you might see flashes of light or a lot of floaters. If a retinal detachment is not treated quickly, it can result in permanent damage.

Are there any eye conditions that may make athletic competition more difficult.
There is a condition called vertical phoria which means your eyes are slightly misaligned which makes hand-eye coordination more difficult. We recently treated a patient with this condition with special glasses and he immediately noticed a vast improvement in his golf score and I was actually surprised he could even play golf with the vision problems he had before we treated him.

What other mistakes to athletes make when it comes to eye protection
Many athletes practice without sunglasses and then wear them during a bright game. This is very common in baseball players and can sometimes be dangerous as a the ball coming at you may look much different through a pair of sunglasses than it does to your plain eye. If you are not used to wearing the glasses, they can often have a negative effect on your vision, because you have trained your eyes to see the ball without the help of sunglasses. If you are going to wear sunglasses for athletic competition I would recommend you practice with them as well.

Is there a standard type of material that should be used for eye protection
Poly-carbonate, which is an impact resistant plastic and is also much thinner and lighter than other types of materials. These are the glasses that Kurt Rambis made famous in the 80’s and although they look funny, they are your best bet for not only protecting your eye but protecting your eye socket as well and they have become quite popular among basketball players and squash and racquetball players.

What long term effects can be caused by basic eye injuries
Corneal scar will cause decrease in vision. Retinal detachments can cause blindness if you were hit in the eye very hard and not seen by an eye doctor within 24 hours or so. With any injury it is better to see a professional to make sure there is no severe damage, even if your eye does not hurt that much as the smallest scratch or piece of dust can cause a lot of damage to your eye.

What steps can people take to protect their eyes in athletic competition
Aside of wearing glasses, not much! If you are playing a contact sport that does not require a helmet like basketball, you obviously have a chance of getting hit in the eye at some point.

Laser surgery is growing in popularity, what exactly is involved in laser surgery
Basically it is the reshaping of the cornea to alter your “refractive error” which changes the way light enters your eyes

Who should inquire about laser surgery
Everyone can inquire about it, near sighted, far sighted and patients with a stigmatism could all be considered. Laser surgery cannot help people who are loosing their eye focusing ability, such as older patients.

Who should avoid laser surgery.
You have to be over 18 and some doctors wont operate on you till you are 21 because your eye can still be changing at that age.

Someone who’s is losing their focusing ability if they are aging will not benefit from laser surgery.

Do they make contact lenses that are more suited for athletic activity
Contact lenses can often help you as they provide peripheral vision, but there is no specific lens designed for general athletic activity. It is recommended to wear soft lenses for athletic competition. There is also a heavily tinted contact lens that may benefit a skier of someone who operates in a very bright environment and I have recently read that there is a soft lens designed to make a yellow tennis ball stand out more.

Contact lenses are also beneficial in sports that require a helmet because many players cannot get a helmet over their eye glasses.

Are all sunglasses the same?
NO..most importantly the sunglasses need to have ultraviolet protection to protect the eyes from burning and from long term adverse effects of ultra violet rays such as cataracts and macular degeneration and just because some sunglasses are over 100 dollars, does not mean they offer more protection than a pair that costs 10 dollars. Your sunglasses can be tested to tell you how effective they will be at blocking ultra-violet light.

Polarized sunglasses can also provide significant benefits for glare reduction and are particularly popular for snow and water sports allowing things to be seen easier such as moguls or fish.