Eye on the ball
When it comes to physical activity, the need to help children protect themselves from eye injury is very real - because the consequences of serious injury can last a lifetime.
Unfortunately children are particularly vulnerable in this regard. A review of paediatric ocular injury for the NSW Department of Health shows that:
• Children under 15 years of age can account for 25 per cent of hospitalisations for severe eye injury
• Eye injuries are most likely to occur at home (65 per cent) or be sports related (10-11 per cent)
• Sports most commonly related with eye injury are tennis, softball, T ball, football, baseball, cricket, hockey, martial arts, trampolining, basketball, golf and soccer.
• Schools generally do a terrific job in protecting children from eye injury - only around one per cent occur at schools or childcare centres.
Researchers suggest that there are a number of reasons why children are more prone to eye injury. They note that eye injury in elite sports is actually quite rare. Children's less developed motor-skills, inexperience with various sports and a tendency to be more daring in the way they play may all leave them vulnerable to injury. Children's eyes are also more prominent and get less protection from the eyebrow, cheekbone and nose. And crucially, when it comes to serious vision-threatening injury, children are much less likely to notice or report a change in their vision.
Keep watch for injuries
The tricky thing about serious eye injury is that it’s not necessarily easy to detect. While damage of the external surface of the eye will often lead to a painful, red eye, internal damage to the eye (which, for example, may be caused by the blunt impact from a ball) may not be outwardly visible and, as mentioned, changes in vision may not always be obvious to the child.
If you suspect a student has suffered an eye injury you should follow your school's first aid policy. An eye examination by an eye specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist), medical practitioner or emergency department of the local hospital is a good idea to rule out any significant damage or allow timely treatment.
As with all injury, prevention is the key. Adequate supervision of sporting activities and ensuring children wear appropriate protective helmets and eye gear will go a long way to preventing the vast majority of eye injuries.
It's also extremely important to be particularly aware of students who have impaired vision in one eye because a serious injury to their good eye can potentially be devastating. Children may have reduced vision in one eye for a number of reasons (for example previous injury or amblyopia - also known as lazy eye) and they may be advised to avoid high risk sports.
While protecting our skin from the sun is almost second nature now, we should also remember that our eyes are vulnerable to the sun. Excessive exposure to sunlight has been linked with a number of eye conditions including pterygium (a scar-like growth of tissue on the front of the eye), cataract, long-term retinal damage and various cancers of the eye.
Wearing a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses when outside (particularly between 10 am and three pm when UV light levels are at their highest) is a great way to help protect the eyes and you can never start too young. The Cancer Council of Australia notes that "sunglasses are as important for children as they are for adults". They advise people to choose close-fitting wrap-around sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard AS 1067. (Note that toy sunglasses that are produced for children are not adequate.)
Cancer Counsel Australia. Be sunsmart (Cancer smart lifestyle factsheets) Last updated 12/02/10. Viewed 25/06/10.
Silveria S, Statewide Ophthalmology Service (2006) Paediatric ocular injury: a review of the literature. Viewed 25/06/10.
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