In reducing sports-related eye injuries, education is key

Paul E. Berman, OD, FAAO, is on a mission to reduce sports-related eye injuries. Dr. Berman urges optometrists to play a major role in the campaign by educating their patients about wearing eye protection when they participate in sports.

Key Points

Paul E. Berman, OD, FAAO, remembers her well. As an optometrist at Focus Eye Health and Vision Care in Hackensack, NJ, Dr. Berman said the experience taught him a valuable lesson: the need to educate patients about preventing sports-related eye injuries.

Since then, Dr. Berman has been on a mission: to convince optometrists and other eye-care professionals to do the same. He said he believes eye injuries are a huge problem in the United States but don't get the attention they deserve.

The National Eye Institute reports that eye injuries-many of which are sports-related-are the leading cause of blindness among school-aged children. According to Prevent Blindness America (PBA), 72% of people with sports-related eye injuries are aged at most 25 years, yet only 15% of children wear eye protection. Not surprisingly, 90% of those injuries are preventable through sports protective eyewear.

Injuries can range from a fractured eye socket to a swollen retina or traumatic cataract, as noted by PBA.

"Eyewear should be part of our protective gear," Dr. Berman said. "We wear it to protect our shoulders, elbows, and shins, but don't use any to protect our eyes. Which is more important-preventing a shin from turning black and blue or preventing blindness?"

Proactive stance

Reducing the number of sports-related eye injuries is an easy fix. Dr. Berman suggested applying the three Is-inquire, inform, and introduce. Just ask patients if they play sports, inform those who do about the risks, and then introduce them to sports protective eyewear.

Dr. Berman said he adopted this practice after the softball player's visit to his office.

"I haven't seen an eye injury in a year," he said, adding that the American Board of Opticians offers a related course for opticians and employees. "If more eye doctors did this in their practices, they would protect more of their patients. The last thing you want to do is see a patient after an eye injury that you could have avoided."

Product adoption

Dr. Berman wonders why more of his peers don't follow suit. Why can't they add this topic to the list of conditions they routinely discuss with patients? Some optometrists shy away from recommending products they sell, he explained. Although selling protective eyewear can boost a practice's bottom line, preventing eye injuries is far from self-serving.

Even the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has called attention to this issue through its health objectives called Healthy People 2010, designed to increase the quality and years of healthy life for Americans and eliminate health disparities among different segments of the U.S. population. One objective is to increase the utilization of eyewear when playing sports and even around the home. Using common lawn tools, such as a lawn mower or weed wacker, can cause serious eye injury, Dr. Berman said.

Although statistics on how many people become blind from sports injuries are hard to come by, he said that this public health initiative should encourage optometrists to do something-anything-to better protect their patients.

He said that protective eyewear usually ranges between $125 and $200. Because it is now more fashionable than in the past, protective eyewear has become much less objectionable to kids, Dr. Berman added.

"If you talk to parents about the risk, even in a challenging economy, the last thing they will say no to is protecting their kids," he said. "It's not difficult to do. And there's a multitude of reasons to do this, besides the purest reason of protecting your patients."