Protecting Young Athletes’ Eyes

Steven E. North, Esq.

When does an act or a omission become “negligence?” The general criteria is the failure to use the degree of care appropriate to the circumstances where there is a duty of care to another.

For a recent study reported in JAMA Ophthalmology, researchers from Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other institutions analyzed data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, which compiles information about millions of emergency room visits to more than 900 hospitals across the country.

They found a high incidence of sports-related eye injuries, and what is most disturbing is that a large majority of the injuries occurred in people younger than 18 – and a substantial number of those injured were younger than 10.

Basketball was the most egregious, accounting for more than one out of four injuries of the eye. Baseball and softball were next in the accounting, with cycling and soccer injuries also scored high.

Although most of the injuries were relatively minor, some involved fractures of the bone around the eyeball, surgery, and potentially vision-threatening events.

Those numbers can be reduced: Just as football and motorcycle helmets provide significant protection to participants, protective gear can help prevent eye injuries. Glasses with clear shatterproof lenses and wraparound construction can keep fingers, debris and misdirected balls from wreaking havoc on a player.

Of course the problem in the absence of a mandate, is making such glasses seem cool enough for a young athlete to want to wear. If schools recommended protective eyewear to parents and required a written “opt-out” in which parents acknowledged the recommendation and indicated they are not requiring it for their children, usage might increase.

Although present standards of care do not require protective eye gear for sports participants, such a mandate may not be far away if lawsuits start imposing responsibility on the guardians of our children.