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Danger of eye injury from errant objects always present

By Cindy Boggs

Dear Cindy,

I'm a beginner but at 39 I am really enjoying the game of tennis. I used to play racquetball and was accustomed to wearing protective goggles. With tennis, I see very few people wearing anything to protect their eyes on the court. What's your opinion of this? - Steven

Dear Steven,

When I read your question, it was sight for sore eyes because it encouraged me to dig in and find out some interesting statistics and information. According to Prevent Blindness America, hospital emergency rooms treat about 40,000 sports-related eye injuries every year. Any sport that uses balls, racquets or flying objects poses a risk for serious eye injury.

Ron Williams, director of adult tennis at the Charleston YMCA says, "In my experiences on the court teaching and playing, eye injuries rank as high as ankle sprains. I have seen many injuries ranging from corneal abrasions, retinal detachments, to one case of blindness. The risk is high, especially with beginner children and adults, because of the difficulty judging the position of a flying ball. I also see injuries occurring more often in the clinic and lesson situations due to the increased pace and frequency of balls being hit."

Looks may deceive when you consider that tennis, racquetball, squash and badminton are noncontact sports. But when you understand that objects in these sports can move 60 miles per hour or faster in a confined space, you realize the potential danger that exists.

Interestingly, Williams says injuries happen in unexpected ways: "I don't see many injuries happening from direct hits off the opponent's racket. Almost all injuries result from deflections off the player's own racket and, inexplicably, the greatest amount result from ricochets off the partner's racket in doubles play at the net. My personal experience with two eye injuries was being hit by errant balls from other courts. Also, people who wear prescription glasses and sunglasses are prone to different kinds of injuries because the force of the ball can shatter the glasses and result in penetration injuries."

Williams makes it clear that novice players run a higher risk, but also cites that experience does not make eye protection unnecessary. In a regular clinic setting with experienced players, he took a quick survey and found that five out of 10 people had at some time been hit in the eye or face with the ball.

Thankfully, a rapidly growing segment of the eye-care industry is protective eyewear for the sports enthusiast. Studies have shown that wearing safety glasses practically eliminates the risk of eye damage and performance is sometimes improved because the fear factor is reduced.

Even better, they now build in your prescription to these protective goggles/glasses for those who need corrective lenses. This is good news. It is not uncommon for those people who require only slight correction in their lenses to choose to go without glasses in tennis rather than taking the risk of a ball hitting their glasses. With the new prescriptive goggles, they can improve their vision while also reducing the chance of eye injury.

It's easy to see why I believe it is wise to wear the protective glasses on the tennis court, but adhering to the standards are important to note. The American Society for Testing and Materials is a sports governing body, which has established and certified requirements for protective eyewear. For tennis and other racquet sports, the glasses must meet standard ASTM F803.

There are three options for tennis eye protection: polycarbonate lenses in a sports frame that passes ASTM F803, contact lenses plus an appropriate protector that passes ASTM F803, or over-the-glasses eye guard that conforms to the specifications of ASTM F803.

Your observation is 20/20, Steven. You won't see the majority of tennis players sporting the latest in safety glasses. Eye protection was not part of the original equipment for tennis, so people are reluctant to wear it now.

Williams says, "Tennis seems to be the only sport that doesn't have an agenda with eye protection. People who do get injured are educated the old-fashioned way and have no problem converting to eye protection.

"For some reason it is not fashionable to wear what is perceived as clunky and unsightly - no pun intended - eyewear. Players have to weigh the risks and decide if protective eyewear is the sensible action for them to take. I think people would be surprised with the eyewear options available to them."

While there are many styles to choose from that meet this standard, more often than not, those who are wearing some type of goggle on the court now do so because they've already sustained an injury or a close call they won't soon forget.

Williams adds, "The tennis player's attitude toward safety glasses can be compared to the old attitude that once surrounded bike riding and wearing a helmet."

Years ago, no one wore helmets; now most everyone sees the protection as an essential part of their gear. Likewise, I feel in time, protective eyewear will find its place in every smart tennis player's bag.

Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311 or e-mail cindysays@aol.com. Look for Cindy's fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.


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