Sports-Related Eye Injuries: What to Do After an Accident and When to See a Doctor

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Photo Credit - Jason Turner

Sports-Related Eye Injuries: What to Do After an Accident and When to See a Doctor

Whether you’re a little league team or playing sports yourself, it’s important to keep your eyes protected. Dean McGee Eye Institute’s Dr. James C. O’Brien provides his advice for eye care first aid and what to do when a more serious eye injury occurs. Dr. O’Brien is currently the neuro-ophthalmology fellow with Dean McGee Eye Institute and will be joining the Dean McGee Eye Institute/University of Oklahoma Department of Ophthalmology as a member of the neuro-ophthalmology faculty in the summer of 2018.

Common Sports-Related Eye Injuries

The most common sports-related eye injuries include lacerations, eyelid bruises, scratches on the eye’s surfaces (or corneal abrasions), bruising or bleeding inside the eyeball, and broken eye socket bones (or orbital fractures.)

Eye injuries are more common in contact sports or sports with projectiles, like basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, ice hockey, racquetball, and tennis. When safety equipment isn’t properly utilized, these sports can have a higher risk of injury.

First Aid for Minor Eye Injuries

Dr. O’Brien says appropriate first aid for minor bruises and scratches around the eye include cleansing visible wounds with sterile saline water or antiseptics—just be sure to keep antiseptics from getting into the eye.

“Gentle pressure with clean gauze or with an ice pack would also be appropriate—just avoid applying excessive pressure directly to the eyeball itself,” says Dr. O’Brien.

Always monitor the healing of an injury and seek medical attention if pain persists after several days or if its condition worsens.

Signs of Serious Eye Injury

“Severe, less-common injuries may include bleeding in the eye socket, called an orbital hemorrhage, or an outright rupture of the eyeball, which is called a ruptured or open globe,” Dr. Brian says.

How can you tell you’ve seriously injured your eye? Dr. O’Brien says there are a few telltale signs. Red flag symptoms can include profound and persistent loss of vision, severe swelling or bruising of the eyelids, or inability to open the eye. Double vision, severe redness, bleeding of the eye itself, an abnormal pupil, or a sensation of gushing fluid coming from the eye are also signs of a serious injury.

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

What to Do if You’ve Seriously Injured Your Eye

“Injuries that involve the eyeball itself may be more serious,” says Dr. O’Brien. “Consult a medical professional before applying medications or other treatments directly to the eye.”

In the case of a lacerated or ruptured eyeball, Dr. O’Brien cautions not to put any pressure on the injury as this can dramatically worsen the injury. Instead, he recommends applying an eye “shield” or a rigid, protective barrier over the eye and seeking immediate medical attention.

If a projectile or other object is accidentally lodged in the eye, do not touch or attempt to remove the object yourself. Immediately seek emergency medical help.

Practicing Eye Safety in Sports

Eye protection is important for athletes of any age, and especially for those with baseline eye or vision problems. Dr. O’Brien says parents and coaches can lead by example when practicing sports eye safety.

“Parents should encourage their children to wear safety eyewear to prevent potentially serious eye injuries and could help model and reinforce this behavior by wearing the eyewear themselves,” he says.

Safety glasses or goggles are appropriate for any contact sport or for any sport that involves projectiles. This means if there’s a ball, puck, or arrow flying in the air, it’s a good idea to use eye protection. Make sure when choosing safety goggles or other eye protection, choose a pair with shatter-resistant polycarbonate lenses.

Dr. O’Brien recommends making safety gear an integral part of a uniform. Consistency is key in reinforcing safety practices.

Dean McGee Eye Institute

For eye exams, emergencies, or safety glasses or goggles DMEI is here for you. Our staff provides exceptional care and expertise to every patient who comes through our doors. Request an appointment with our doctors or learn how you can help us provide healthy vision to even more people across our state.

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