For Phyllis Smith, there is no question. Her 11-year-old son, Spencer, wears protective eyewear every time he steps up to bat.
“It was his pediatrician,” the Lawrence resident says. “He said, ‘You are going to get safety glasses for him, aren’t you?’ and I said, ‘Uh ... Yes. I guess I am!’”
So Spencer never steps up to the pitcher mound, or behind home base, without his sports goggles.
This message from Smith’s pediatrician is no doubt one that the American Academy of Ophthalmology wishes more parents heard, for according to their data, 90 percent of the 40,000 sports-related eye injuries that occur annually are preventable. And of the 40,000 injuries, 72 percent of them occur in individuals younger than 25, and 43 percent in those younger than 15, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Children are especially vulnerable as they have underdeveloped depth perception and may have difficulty judging the position of a flying ball.
Such was the case with 11-year-old Austin Quick, Lawrence, who was hit in the eye by a change-up pitch while he was at baseball practice several weeks ago.
“I thought I could bunt it away,” he says. “I should have stepped back and turned my back to it.”
Instead the bat and the ball hit him in the face, and he spent a couple of hours in the emergency room. Fortunately, the only thing he suffered was a swollen, black eye.
“Austin always wears his mouth guard to protect his teeth,” says Quick’s mother, Shari. “I never really thought about protecting his eyes before.”
Lee Ice, youth sports supervisor for Lawrence Parks and Recreation, follows the guidelines set out by the Kansas State High School Activities Association, the American Softball Association and the USSSA. He acknowledges that while there are some recommendations for mouth guards, currently there are no requirements for children to wear protective eyewear.
“We are always looking out safety of the children who play in our programs,” he says, adding that he keeps abreast of all of the safety recommendations that are issued.
Dr. Marie Koederitz, who specializes in pediatric ophthalmology at Lawrence Eye Care, 1112 W. Sixth St., has seen injuries ranging “from minor corneal abrasions (scratches on the surface of the eye) from fingers ... to more severe ones such as globe (eyeball) rupture that requires stitches to suture the eye back together.”
Baseball or high-pitch softball aren’t the only sports in which children are at risk for eye injuries. Several years ago Koederitz treated a 7-year-old girl who had been hit in the eye with a soccer ball.
“The front chamber of the eye filled completely with blood. Her eye pressure became very high, and she required hospitalization, bed rest, multiple eye drops, IV medicine and eventually two surgeries to drain the blood before it resolved,” Koederitz says.
The girl developed a cataract which also required surgery.
“Her vision is still not the same as her other eye, and she will need lifelong exams, monitoring and protection of her healthy eye,” Koederitz says. “If the person's ‘good’ eye gets injured, then their daily life will be greatly altered in that they may not be able to work, play sports or drive a car.”
Koederitz recommends that any child involved in sports in which there is a ball moving at a high velocity be fitted with protective eyewear.
“This includes tennis, golf, soccer, baseball/softball, racquetball, squash, hockey (ice or field), basketball and lacrosse,” she says. “The eyewear should be sports frames with polycarbonate lenses or a protective shield, depending on the sport.”
Because regular eyeglasses and sunglasses are not enough to stand up against hard blows, children who currently wear glasses can get their prescription incorporated into a polycarbonate lens.