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Eyeing up the dangers of sports

If your keep-fit regime includes sports, take care to avoid eye injuries

15 FEBRUARY 2011

There's no doubt that sport is good for you, but there's also little doubt that there are risks involved. It seems that an increase in popularity of some sports is resulting in an increase in eye injuries, with games such as squash and basketball featuring on the high-risk list. It's been estimated that around a quarter of eye injuries are due to sport – mostly caused by impact from a ball, racquet or stick – and that with proper precautions up to 90% of these accidents could be prevented.



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The highest risk sports are basketball, squash, baseball, hockey and the martial arts, and ophthalmologists recommend participants use mesh-visored helmets or protective eyewear, as appropriate. As for 'the beautiful game', according to some studies, a soccer player has a 50% chance of sustaining an eye injury in a career spanning 8 years, but it seems to be its popularity rather than any inherent risk that makes football one of the worst culprits. In the USA, basketball is the sport responsible for most eye injuries in players aged between 15 and 24, and each year there are around 50 serious eye injuries in the NBA. Of racquet sports, the most dangerous of all is squash, where the ball may reach speeds of up to 230 km per hour.  A worrying ten percent of eye injuries in sports that involve high-speed small balls are likely to cause permanent damage.

Experience plays a key part in avoiding injury, not so much because experts take more precautions, but simply because they are more likely to get out of the way of the ball in time. Over half the injuries occur in beginners, whereas top-level players only account for around 13%. Ophthalmologists believe that modifying rules and equipment to provide better protection could greatly reduce the number of injuries. A Canadian study revealed that before bringing in current protection measures, 70% of ice-hockey players had suffered a severe eye injuries.



There are other risks to eyes from sports, though, not just the chance of impact from ball and racquet sports. The sun is also a major problem, with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation causing many injuries. These lesions are most common in winter sports including skiing, and outdoor water sports. Symptoms include pain, light sensitivity, redness and itching. Once again, ophthalmologists recommend the use of appropriate glasses or goggles, as well as regular eye tests.

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