By: Dr. Keith Gordon, Vice-President, Research
It may seem as though I am fixated on sports eye injuries. The reason for this is that it is estimated that 90 percent of sports eye injuries could be prevented by the wearing of proper eye protection.
According to Statistics Canada, soccer is now the number one sport in Canada in terms of participation by children, with over 20% of children engaged at some level in the sport. Participation in soccer by both girls and boys is increasing steadily.
One would think that the incidence of eye injuries in soccer would be low. After all, the soccer ball is bigger than one’s eye, is it not? As it turns out, most eye injuries in soccer are in fact caused by the ball. Hospital ophthalmologists can all testify to treating soccer eye injuries caused by the ball, and there are a number of papers to this effect in the literature. So how does this happen, when the average size of the orbit (the area around the eye protected by bone) is 1.4 X 1.6 inches, and the diameter of a standard soccer ball is 8.6 inches? Laboratory experiments have shown that on impact the soccer ball distorts significantly, forming what is described as a “knuckle”. This knuckle is small enough to enter the orbit and cause direct damage to the eye. Furthermore, it has been shown that the time that a soccer ball spends in the orbit is longer than other smaller balls and on rebound it causes a suction effect which can further damage the eye. This distortion of the ball appears to occur whether or not the ball is underinflated.
Other studies have shown that soccer eye injuries affect young athletes irrespective of their age, sex and type of soccer, level of expertise or player position.
Like so many sports, prevention of eye injuries from soccer can be achieved by wearing eye guards made from polycarbonate. There is at least one sports equipment company that has developed sports eye wear specifically for soccer. If you are not sure what the best eye guard is for you or your children, ask your eye doctor or optician. Make sure that the guard fits well, is comfortable and doesn’t slip when you are running.
The need for eye protection in soccer has taken a lot longer to be recognized than in other sports such as hockey. However, awareness of this need is starting to grow and hopefully it won’t be long before everyone playing soccer will be required to wear appropriate eye protection.