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Eye Protection and Sports Sunglasses

Prevent sports eye injury with the right eye protection, sunglasses or goggles


Updated September 04, 2013

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 90 percent of all eye injuries can be prevented with the use of appropriate protective eye-wear, or sports sunglasses. This advice definitely applies to athletes or anyone who participates in sports.

Common Eye Injuries

Blunt Trauma and Impact Eye Injuries
These are the most common eye injuries in sports. They occur when something or someone hits your eye with force. Contact sports or sports that use balls, rackets or sticks have a high risk for blunt trauma eye injuries. This type of injury can be minor (a black eye) or serious (fractures of the facial bones, a ruptured eyeball). Using eye protection for your sport is the best way to avoid these injuries.

Penetrating or Piercing Eye Injuries
Penetrating or piercing injuries occur when something cuts or pierces your eye. These injuries are less common, but can certainly be serious. Examples of items that can cut into the eye include broken glass, debris, and fingernails. Many emergencies room employees can also tell a story or two about someone getting a fish hook in the eye.

Radiation Eye Injuries
Radiation injuries are more common during sports that occur on snow or water, where the effects of sunlight are intense. Skiers, snowboarders, and mountaineers need to pay special attention to the effects of sun reflecting off the snow, even on overcast days. Ultraviolet light from the sun has been linked to various eye problems, including cataracts and macular degeneration, and is one of the leading causes of vision loss among older Americans.

Protecting Your Eyes During Sports

The best way to protect your eyes while participating in sports is to be sure your sports eyewear has 3-mm polycarbonate lenses. Polycarbonate lenses are impact-resistant and are the thinnest, lightest lenses you can buy. Polycarbonate is also the most shatter-resistant lens material, and it filters 100 percent of ultraviolet (UV) light (which will help prevent radiation eye injuries).

Some sports have documented standards for recommended eye protection. Such standards have been established by the American Society of Testing & Materials (ASTM Standard F803). They currently have standards for the following sports:

  • racket sports
  • baseball
  • basketball
  • lacrosse
  • field hockey
If you don't see your sport listed below, it's recommended that you choose eyewear certified for racket sports.

Recommended Eye Protection By Sport

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following eye protection for these sports. Look for certification labels on eyewear packaging.

  • Basketball, Soccer and Tennis
    Sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses certified by the Protective Eyewear Council (PECC).

  • Baseball or Softball
    Polycarbonate or wire face guards on the batter's helmet and sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses on the field (certified by PECC).

  • Field Hockey
    A full face mask for the goalie and sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses on the field (certified by PECC).

  • Football
    A polycarbonate eye shield attached to wire face mask. These should be certified by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).

  • Ice Hockey
    Helmet with full-face protection. This should be certified by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council (HECC).

  • Men's Lacrosse
    Helmet with full-face protection (certified by NOCSAE).

  • Women's Lacrosse
    Full-face protection or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses or wire mesh (certified by PECC).

  • Paintball
    Full-face protection (certified by PECC).

  • Racket Sports
    Sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses that are certified by the PECC or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

  • Skiing
    High-impact resistant eye protection or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses (certified by PECC). They should also filter UV and excessive sunlight.

Eyewear Not Recommended for Sports
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the following types of eyewear do not offer adequate eye protection during sports:

  • fashion sunglasses
  • regular eyeglasses
  • contact lenses
  • industrial safety glasses

The Coalition To Prevent Sports Eye Injuries provides a full list of recommended eye protection by sport [pdf].

Recommendations for Sports Sunglasses
Sunglasses should protect from UV light and protect the eyes from impact injury. For the best sports protection, select sunglasses with polycarbonate lenses. To filter out bright light, neutral gray or amber lenses are a good choice. To avoid glare on water or snow, look for polarized lenses.

Good polycarbonate sunglasses are not necessarily expensive. Look for the PECC seal when buying your next pair of glasses so you are sure that your choice is a wise one.

Check these: Top Picks in Sports Sunglasses


American Academy of Ophthalmology Urges Athletes to Wear Protective Eyewear, The American Academy of Ophthalmology

Joint Policy Statement - Protective Eyewear for Young Athletes, The Coalition To Prevent Sports Eye Injuries, Ophthalmology 2004; 111:600–603, 2004.

Play Hard, Play Safe, Protective Eyewear Certification Council.

Sunglasses - Guidelines, Protective Eyewear Certification Council.

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