When we think of preventing sports and exercise injuries, we usually think of muscle sprains, strains, and bone fractures. We don’t usually think about the eyes.
As a result, we often engage in fitness and sports activities without giving a thought to proper eye protection. In fact, sports activities cause nearly 40,000 eye injuries each year. Most of those injuries are caused by blunt trauma to the eye.
But trauma isn’t the only culprit. Eye injuries also occur from exposure to irritants, like chlorine, and excessive sunlight. Some eyeglass wearers wear their normal glasses during athletic activities, while others might not wear their glasses at all, and both can increase the risk of eye injury.
Whether you are participating in a team sport or going for an afternoon jog, proper eye protection is crucial not only for preventing an acute injury but also for preventing secondary effects like cataracts.
How can you protect your eyes while exercising?
If you wear eyeglasses, wear prescription sports goggles. Glasses can get in the way – prescription sports goggles are a good accessory to have if you’re serious about exercise. If you are doing a solitary exercise like running, it might be tempting to go without.
Your eyeglasses serve two important functions during exercise and sports activities: they help you see and offer UV protection. UV Light can damage the lens of your eye and cause cataracts. UV Light can also cause damage to other structures in the eye, like the retina.
Even if you think you don’t need your glasses, not wearing them forces your eye to strain to focus properly and that can make your vision worse over time.
Sports goggles correct your vision properly, they provide UV protection, and they are also designed to withstand impact in the way regular eyeglasses aren’t. Where a normal pair of glasses might break, and even make the injury worse, goggles will remain intact and even absorb some of the impacts.
Wear sunglasses when you are exercising outdoors. Even if you don’t normally wear glasses, you still need to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of UV radiation. If regular sunglasses are uncomfortable, or if they won’t stay on during your activity, invest in a good pair of sports goggles.
Wear goggles or a mask while swimming. Normal pool chlorine levels should not pose a threat; in fact, they could protect your eyes from damage from bacteria. But other factors could irritate your eyes and cause damage.
For example, if the chlorine levels are too low, this can cause by-products like ammonia to build up in the pool water. Also, the pH balance can make a difference as can the reflection of sunlight on the water.
In most cases, you don’t have control over the chlorine levels or environmental factors, but a good pair of goggles will prevent the water from irritating your eyes and provide a measure of UV protection.
If you do experience an eye injury, seek immediate medical attention then follow up with your regular physician or eye doctor within a few days of the incident. If worse comes to worst, do not afraid of cataract surgery – it’s a lot better than permanent blindness.
If you experience eye irritation, such as itching, burning, or a rash, apply a cool compress to relieve the symptoms. If you still have the symptoms after 24 hours, contact your physician to determine the cause.