Eye Safety and Kids' Sports

Doctors strongly recommend protective eyewear for many kids' sports.

eye safety - paintball
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You wouldn't let your kid play football or ride a bike without a helmet, but how often do you think about eye safety? It's sometimes overlooked, but eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in American kids. And in school-aged children, most of those injuries are sports-related. This may be due to kids' aggressive play, their athletic immaturity, or a lack of supervision during some recreational activities.

Ordinary sunglasses, prescription glasses, and contact lenses don't offer protection against eye injuries.

There is good news, though: the great majority (90%) of kids' eye injuries are totally avoidable. Basic eye safety equipment—safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards—is easy to find and relatively inexpensive. If your child wears prescription glasses, you can get them in a sports-safe version, often called "rec specs."

Most Dangerous Sports for Eye Safety

Sports involving projectiles, sticks or rackets, and close proximity (meaning a player could easily be poked in the eye by another player) tend to be the most dangerous. You might be surprised to learn that both contact and non-contact sports can be dangerous.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology list the following sports as the most high-risk for eye injuries.

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Boxing
  • Hockey
  • Paintball
  • Racquetball
  • Softball
  • Squash

These sports put eye safety at moderate risk:

  • Football
  • Golf
  • Badminton
  • Soccer
  • Tennis
  • Fishing
  • Volleyball
  • Water polo

Bicycling, swimming and diving, skiing, and wrestling are low risk. Track and field and gymnastics are considered "eye safe" sports.

Types of Eye Injuries

The most common sports-related eye injuries are blunt injuries, penetrating injuries, and corneal abrasions.

A blunt injury happens when the eye is hit and compressed by an object, such as a ball or another person's fist or elbow. A blunt injury could result in a black eye or broken bone, and can sometimes endanger vision. In a penetrating injury, a foreign object (most often glass from a shattered eyeglass lens) pierces the eye—a serious injury that requires emergency treatment to prevent loss of vision. A corneal abrasion is a scrape on the cornea, the outer lens of the eye. In sports, abrasions typically happen when a player's eye is poked by another player's finger. These injuries can be very painful but usually heal on their own with no lasting damage.

Eye Safety Glasses and Guards

Protective eyewear for sports includes safety goggles and eye guards. The lenses are usually made of a strong, shatterproof plastic called polycarbonate. Look for "ASTM F803 approved" on the label, which indicates a high level of protection. Prevent Blindness America offers these tips for choosing and buying protective eyewear:

  • Buy eyewear specifically designed and tested for sports use.
  • Buy eyeguards with lenses and make sure they either stay in place or pop out, not in, in case of an accident.
  • Consider an anti-fog coating, or side vents, to help keep the lenses from fogging during practice or play.
  • Look for padding where the goggles or eyeguards meet the face (brow line and bridge of nose).
  • Make sure the eyewear is sized to fit comfortably, or is adjustable.

You can buy protective eyewear at optical shops or sporting goods stores. Regular eyeguards will cost $20 to $40, while guards with prescription lenses start at about $60. You can also buy sports-friendly frames and have them fitted with lenses by your optometrist.

To find out what kind of eye protection is recommended and allowed for your child's sport, visit the National Eye Institute or check with the governing body for the sport.


American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, American Academy of Ophthalmology, Eye Health and Public Information Task Force. Joint Policy Statement: Protective Eyewear for Young Athletes. Pediatrics Vol 113 No 3, March 2004 (reaffirmed February 2015).

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