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First Steps in Treating Sports Eye Injuries

Humans have been playing sports for centuries now, but they are more popular now than ever thanks to the availability of equipment, playing fields, etc. But sports are not always safe, especially for the face.

Many eye injuries occur in sports every day. They are prevalent in racquet and water sports, baseball, and basketball.

Eye injuries linked to sports are radiation, penetration, and blunt injuries. It is why experts advise putting on protective eyewear when playing sports. However, if you get injured, here are some of the first things you need to do when treating the eye injury.

1. Corneal Abrasions

Apply a topical anesthetic immediately after the injury and then some fluorescein strips to the conjunctival sac. A fluorescent green stain in the eye will show whether you have an abraded epithelium. A cobalt blue light will help you identify this green stain.

Blepharospasm and pain might make it hard for you to open your eyes, and you should skip the rest of the game and go to a doctor.

2. Concealed Foreign Object

In the lower fornix or under the upper eyelid, you may find hidden foreign objects resulting from vertical linear corneal abrasions. These objects will show after you have done fluorescein strip staining.

In this scenario, evert your upper eyelid and then remove the foreign object with a moistened swab or sterile irrigating solution. If you have a corneal abrasion, follow the guidelines above on how to treat it.

If you do not have any corneal abrasion, you can resume playing. There is no need for patching in this situation.

3. Superficial Corneal Foreign Object

With such injuries, apply topical anesthetic first and then remove the foreign object using a moistened sterile cotton swab or sterile irrigating solution. Do not use a needle or tweezers. Once you remove the object, apply antibiotic ointment.

Ensure you go for a checkup in the next 24 hours after the injury. If you cannot remove the foreign object, seek medical attention immediately.

4. Superficial Eyelid Laceration

First, you need to rule out any globe injury. Full-thickness eye lacerations, especially ones that involve the lid margin, warrant immediate medical attention. If it is only your eye skin involved, use sterile skin closures. Anything that involves lid margins will require you to reapproximate superficial lacerations.

Look for globe injuries or facial fractures. Afferent pupillary defects will also suggest traumatic optic neuropathy. If you have an orbital fracture, you must see a doctor immediately.

Additionally, you will not be able to get back into the game. Pupil lacerations typically involve the canalicular system. Until you can prove otherwise, opt out of the game.

5. Blows to the Eye

A blow to the eye is a type of trauma. You can manage most minor blows at home. Just monitor the situation closely for signs of potential infection or severe injury. They are often characterized by swelling that does not go down, extreme discoloration, and eye discharge.

The first thing you should do when treating such an eye injury is gently cold compress your eye in about 5 to 10-minute intervals. Avoid placing ice directly onto your skin as you could damage the skin and underlying nerves. Place a cloth in between your skin and the ice instead.

Doctors advise switching to a warm compression after a day or so. It will help reduce the bruising.

You should also call an eye doctor. They will want to examine your eye for further potential damage. You must visit the ER for immediate evaluation if you sustain significant eye trauma, like displaced bones or a fractured skull.

If you notice any of the symptoms below, seek immediate medical attention;

  • Changes in your vision
  • Persistent pain
  • Drainage of the injured eye
  • Bleeding in your sclera or any visible abnormalities

6. Burns

The signs and symptoms of ultraviolet ray burns include photophobia and intense pain. One of the main characteristics of this injury is fluorescein-based fine punctate staining. You need to treat the wound with topical antibiotics and systemic analgesics. If you experience any epithelial defects, talk to a doctor immediately.

This type of injury usually happens during water or snow sports. Snow blindness occurs when you expose your eyes to snow-reflected UV-B rays for long periods.

Pre-participation Examinations

Before participating in any physical sports, conduct a complete eye exam. Your doctor should get a complete ocular history. The doctor should pay close attention to previous eye conditions like surgical aphakia, myopia eye surgery, and retinal detachment.

This is because experience with the conditions mentioned above increases the chance of suffering a severe eye injury.

Suppose you have a family history of diabetic retinopathy, retinal tears, and retinal detachment. In that case, you should see an eye doctor to assess your eyes before participating in any physical sport. People with such risk factors need professional examination and evaluation before playing any high-risk sports.

Many sports-related eye injuries are often caused by blunt force trauma to the eye. The degree of your ocular damage will depend on the object’s velocity, size, and hardness. It also depends on the amount of force it hits you with.

A direct blow from an object smaller than the orbital opening will cause the globe’s middle part to dilate, leading to rapid anteroposterior compression.


An eye injury does not mean you have to stop playing, but you will need to address the injury before you get back into the game. Follow the guidelines above to avoid making your injuries worse.

If you have a severe eye injury, let a medical professional examine and clear you before you get back into the game.

Your affected eye should offer adequate vision and feel comfortable before returning to the game. Consider wearing eye protectors as well.

With that said, note that some eye injuries from sports are medical emergencies. If you are unsure how to administer first aid, head to the ER or eye doctor’s office for assessment and treatment. Hopefully, now you know what to do when you injure your eye during sports.