Protective Eyewear for Athletes – What You Should Know

There were approximately 42,000 sports-related eye injuries reported in the United States in 2008. Of those, one third happened to younger athletes.

The purpose of protective eyewear is to prevent injuries to the eyes. Contact lenses offer no protection at all, and regular eyeglasses cannot prevent eye injuries.

Ophthalmologists and other eye care professionals can properly fit appropriate sport-specific protective eyewear and headgear that will not hinder an athlete’s performance. Athletes today can choose from various types of lightweight and sturdy protective eyewear and headgear.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages athletes to seek guidance from an experienced ophthalmologist, optician, or athletic trainer when selecting appropriate protective eyewear.

Athletes who have good vision in one eye and not the other or who have a history of eye injuries are encouraged to wear masks and goggles for additional protection.

Polycarbonate: Is It a Magic Material?

Polycarbonate is the material used to create protective eyewear for athletes. It is 20 percent stronger than the materials used in other types of eyewear. Polycarbonate is fully capable of withstanding the impact of a ball traveling at 90 miles per hour.

Many professional athletes wear these types of goggles for protection. In basketball, fingers and elbows to the eye are common. In baseball, batters can sometimes be hit in the eye by wild pitches. Although many hockey players wear facemasks, not all do, and a puck travels at dangerous high speeds.

When playing sports that require a mask or a helmet with eye protectors, athletes are encouraged to wear sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to ensure adequate protection.

Types of Protective Eyewear I Can Buy

There are many forms of protective eyewear for athletes. As mentioned before, athletes can choose from a wide range of gear that is lightweight and sturdy. Some of the options athletes have are:

  • Goggles
  • Face masks
  • Shields
  • Sunglasses
  • Underwater masks
  • CR-39 lenses (made of ally/resin plastic)
  • Polycarbonate lenses, shields, face guards
  • Street-wear frames (these feature a posterior lip to prevent inward displacement of lenses)

There are several features to consider when purchasing protective eyewear. You should consider protecting your eyes not only from impacts, but also from ultraviolet sunlight and glare from bright lights at night. You can add coatings to your lenses that offer protection from UV rays and glare.

Enhancing the color of the lenses by tinting them is popular among athletes. There are several tints available, the most common being yellow, copper, amber, and rose. Yellow tinted lenses are said to help tennis players see the ball more clearly against stadium walls, while baseball players use amber tints to filter out the blue light that inhibits their ability to see a ball clearly in the sky.

Photochromic lenses, commonly referred to as “transition lenses,” are another option for athletes. These lenses are clear indoors and turn into sunglasses when taken into the sun. They especially benefit golfers, since they change when taken from direct sunlight to shade during a round, but they can benefit any athlete who has to perform outside on a day that is partly cloudy and partly sunny.

What Are The Most Popular High-Risk Sports?

The sports most frequently responsible for serious eye injuries include:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Fencing
  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Lacrosse
  • Paintball
  • Racquetball
  • Boxing
  • Water Polo

Boxing, martial arts, and other full-contact sports offer no type of protective eyewear. If an athlete is known to have prior eye injuries or surgeries it is recommended they participate in a sport in which proper eyewear can be worn.

In Canada, it was reported that after certified full-face protectors were made mandatory in organized amateur hockey, the number of eye injuries decreased by 90 percent for the year.

Protective Eyewear for Young Athletes

Young athletes especially need protective eyewear. A third of the 42,000 eye injuries reported in 2008 happened to young athletes. This is due to the fact that many children’s sports leagues, schools, and teams do not require young athletes to wear masks, goggles, shields, or any kind of protective eyewear.

Helmets are worn in football and hockey, but that is about it. No other sports require children to protect their eyes from injury.

Parents should have their children wear protective gear when playing dangerous sports. Parents can also set an example by wearing protective gear themselves. Our sight is our most important sense, so it is important to take precautions on the field.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor or healthcare provider about protective eyewear for athletes:

  • What materials should my frames and lenses be made of?
  • Can I be prescribed contact lenses to wear under my goggles?
  • How much should I expect to pay for protective eyewear?
  • Where can I go locally to get the best deals on protective eyewear?
  • How often should I replace my protective eyewear?
  • What are the risks involved with wearing a specific type of protective eyewear?
  • How much would it cost to add anti-reflective and UV protective coatings to my lenses?
  • Would I benefit from transition lenses?

Did you know: Although they do not make you 100 percent injury-proof, eye protectors have been found to reduce the risk of significant eye damage by 90 percent.

Sources and References:
We have strict guidelines for each of our sources and references. We rely upon vision, eye and medical information from peer-reviewed studies, medical associations and academic research institions.
  • American Academy of Ophthalmology, Clinical Statements: Protective Eyewear for Young Athletes, 2011
  • Lighthouse International, Protective Eyewear Prevents Eye Injuries,
  • J. DiGirolamo “The Big Book of Family Eye Care” (Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2011) 110-116