Now that spring is here, and Covid guidelines are easing up in many areas, more people are getting outside and participating in recreational activities.
In this blog, I want to share some of the sports-related causes of eye injuries in my ophthalmology clinic at Boulder Medical Center. Many of the tips that I offer are common sense, but as you know, taking extra care to protect our vision is critical to enjoying the activities we love here in Colorado.
Skiing and snow blindness
Snow blindness is one of the most common eye injuries in my clinic. UV light can be particularly intense at higher altitudes, and the amount of UV light that impacts your eye almost doubles when it reflects off of snow. This concentrated UV light can damage the cornea’s epithelial cells, which causes redness, pain, light sensitivity, and blurry vision.
Preventing UV exposure is critical. Wear goggles while alpine skiing, sunglasses with UV protection when hiking or cross-country skiing, and glacier goggles when mountaineering. If snow blindness occurs, treat the condition with over-the-counter lubricating drops every few hours. This can improve symptoms and heal the cornea within a week. In any event, see an ophthalmologist for an eye evaluation as soon as you can. They may prescribe steroid or antibiotic drops in moderate to severe cases and can track any lasting damage.
Watch out for flying objects
Projectiles during recreation activities pose a significant safety threat to your eyes. Fortunately, most people understand the risks and avoid shooting at each other with BB guns or other objects, and the number of these injuries that I see in my clinic has decreased over the years. With that said, it’s important to remember that paintball guns pose a significant risk to the eye, and wearing protective goggles at all times is essential. The same is true for Nerf-type guns. I have seen many severe injuries in patients hit with Nerf bullets, including one who bet her boyfriend that he could not hit her in the forehead with one.
Wear protective lenses for ball sports. Always.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, one study found that basketball was the leading cause of sports-related eye injuries in the United States, followed by baseball, softball, racquetball, and hockey. Based on injuries that I see in my clinic, I would add squash and lacrosse to that list. Wearing protective glasses or goggles constructed of shatterproof plastic (polycarbonate lenses) while playing these sports is mandatory.
I also see quite a few soccer players with eye injuries, especially those who play indoors. Unfortunately, wearing eyewear during soccer is not practical due to the practice of “heading” the ball. Simply being aware of the risk can help prevent eye injuries.
Cyclists need quality eye protection too
The most common eye injury I see from cycling is exposure keratitis, which damages the cornea’s epithelial cells from wind and UV light. Cyclists with a propensity for dry eyes are at higher risk for this condition, so putting a lubricating drop in your eyes before and during your ride can be helpful.
Injury to the eyes from flying debris, insects, or branches when cycling is also common. Always wear sunglasses to prevent these injuries.
When to see an ophthalmologist
Ophthalmologists are eye physicians with advanced medical and surgical training. With all of these injuries, seek an ophthalmologist’s medical evaluation and care if you experience decreased vision, pain, redness, eye irritation, flashing lights, floaters (dark splotches in your vision), or other symptoms. Early intervention can prevent further injury and even vision loss.
About Ken Kreidl, MD
As a board-certified ophthalmologist, Dr. Kreidl provides vision exams, diagnoses and treats eye trauma and diseases, prescribes medications, and performs eye surgery.
Get to know Ken Kreidl, MD: