Eye Care

A study published in JAMA Ophthalmology has found that about 30,000 people in the US go to emergency departments each year with sports-related eye injuries, a substantially higher estimate than previously reported. Three sports accounted for almost half of all injuries: basketball, baseball and air/paintball guns.

Seizing upon recent modifications to the ICD-9-CM, which allow for classification of sports-related injuries by specific sports, U.S. and Swiss researchers analyzed data on 30 million emergency department visits across the U.S. from 2010 to 2013 to look at the burden of sports-related ocular trauma.

Here are the highlights:

  • 120,847 people presented to emergency departments with ocular trauma, of which 85, 961 had ocular trauma as a primary diagnosis
  • Patients were mostly male (81.3%) and young (mean age, 20 for males and females)
  • Basketball was the leading cause of injury in male patients (25.7%), followed by baseball/softball, and air/paintball guns
  • Baseball or softball was the leading cause among female patients (19.2%) followed by cycling and soccer
  • The most common type of injury was open wound of the adnexa. One-fifth of overall ocular injuries from baseball were blowout fractures
  • Despite accounting for only 9.9% of sports-related eye injuries, paintball and air guns accounted for the highest amount of visual impairment (26.4%)
  • Soccer-related injuries (5.9% of sports-related eye injuries) also contributed a disproportionate share of visual impairment (10.9%)

The authors write that their data suggest a path forward in the effort to prevent sports-related ocular trauma. Mandating the use of protective gear has reduced rates of injury across several sports, and recent research suggests that when appropriate eyewear is available but not mandatory, top-performing athletes frequently choose to wear it.

However, this successful approach is unlikely to affect the burden of sports-related ocular trauma due to nonorganized recreational sporting activities, including those most correlated with visual impairment, such as shooting paintball and air guns. Reducing sports-related ocular trauma among individuals engaging in these activities, along with individual sports with high levels of injuries, such as cycling, will likely require a coordinated approach from policy makers, industry, and public health professionals.