As an athlete, you may rely on your vision even more than most people do. Your eyes need to be sharp to see which way your opponent is going or to spot a ball on a crowded field. However, as an athlete, you're also at greater risk for eye injury than most people, especially if you play outdoors, play a contact sport, or play any sport where objects are likely to fly fast in the direction of your face.
In order to stay at the top of your game, and in order to preserve your vision for day-to-day life, you need to take special precautions to ensure that you protect your eyes when you're on the field, court, or ring. Take a look at some eye health tips for athletes.
Your Eyes Need Sun Protection Too
If you play or practice outdoors, you maybe exposing yourself to more sun than the average person. Chances are you take steps to protect yourself from the sun's UV rays by applying sunscreen or wearing clothes that deflect the sun. What you may not realize is it's not only your skin that needs sun protection. Your eyes can sustain a type of sunburn as well. This is called photokeratitis. The symptoms of photokeratitis include redness of the eyes, a gritty feeling in your eyes, and excessive tearing.
Photokeratitis is rarely lasting and usually heals on its own. The problem is repeated over-exposure to the sun over a long period of time can lead to lasting damage. This is similar to typical skin sunburns – while one sunburn may not cause any lasting damage, a lifetime of unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer, wrinkles, and other problems. When it comes to your eyes, years of exposure to the sun can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, and retina damage.
Wearing lenses that protect you from the sun whenever possible is the best way to avoid damage from long term sun exposure. Sunglasses should block out 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays as well as 75% to 90% of visible light. The best lenses are gray – they'll allow you to make out colors properly. Wearing regular sunglasses while playing sports can be dangerous if they break – always wear tinted safety glasses or sports goggles when possible during sporting events.
Swim Goggles Are A Must
Whether your sport is competitive swimming or you, like many athletes, just use the pool for training purposes, wearing swim goggles is almost as important as wearing sunglasses in the sun. The chlorine in the pool can wash away the protective tear film in your eyes while you're swimming. That's why your eyes feel dry when you get out of the water.
Dry eyes aren't the only problem with losing your tear film, though – the lack of a tear film leaves you susceptible to the germs that can cause eye infections, and those infections could cause temporary, or in some cases, permanent, damage to your vision. Take your cue from Olympic swimmers – although swimming goggles were disallowed until 1976, they're now used by all Olympic swimmers, and they can even be polarized for better underwater vision.
Preventing Head Injuries Protects Your Eyes Too
For some sports, it's not possible to wear sunglasses or goggles, and that's because you need to wear protective headgear instead. If you fence or play football, ice hockey, or lacrosse, your protective headgear is crucial, and you should never play without it, even during practice.
A head injury can be a major threat to your vision. Head trauma can cause retinal detachment, a serious condition that requires swift surgical intervention to prevent blindness in the affected eyes. They can also cause optic nerve damage, which cuts off the blood flow to your eyes and causes vision problems and possibly blindness. Even a minor trauma can lead to vitreous hemorrhage – broken blood vessels in the whites of your eyes that may require medication and treatment to fix.
If you're planning to join a sports team, it's a good idea to see your eye doctor first. Your doctor, like one at Advanced Retinal Institute Inc, can evaluate the current health of your eyes and give you suggestions to help protect them from harm while you play.