Preventing Sports Eye Injuries

Two local optometrists share how to keep your eye on the ball instead of in the doctor’s office.

Have you ever received an elbow to the face while playing a pick-up game of basketball? How about a finger to the eye? Sports eye injuries are more common than most people realize. In honor of Sports Eye Safety Awareness Month, two local optometrists share how to keep your eyes out of the doctor’s office.

The most common sports eye injury is a corneal abrasion, which is damage to the surface of the eye’s cornea. The cornea is the clear protective layer that covers the iris (the colored part of the eye) and the pupil (the black circle in the middle). According to Dr. Grant Smith, owner of VisionSmith in Plymouth, corneal abrasions can easily occur in basketball when a player grabs for the ball and scratches an eye instead.

Blunt trauma from bats, racquets or rogue fists and elbows can also cause damage to the eyes, due to the initial impact and the sudden increase and decrease in eye pressure. Dr. Tate Herman, who leads the team at Plymouth Vision Center, reports that other common injuries include broken bones of the eye socket, eyelid lacerations, torn retinas and even sunburns to the eye, known as “snow blindness.

Sports eye injuries are both common and dangerous. “Many people will wait to see if the eye feels better the following day, which could be disastrous if an underlying problem goes unseen. It’s best to have your eye injury checked out, regardless of how minor the symptoms present themselves,” Dr. Herman says.

Dr. Smith agrees, citing a Wayzata hockey injury in which the athlete’s concussion caused the pupil to dilate, causing intermittent double vision. “The ultimate danger is loss of vision or possible complete blindness in an eye,” he says. “Fortunately most eye injuries heal without permanent disability.”

There is an easy solution to keeping the eyes safe during sports: Wearing proper protective eyewear can dramatically reduce both the severity and risk of injury. “Contact lenses, regular glasses and sunglasses do not provide proper protection,” Dr. Herman says. In some instances, they may even result in more serious injuries. The best protection is eyewear designed for sports, such as sport goggles and specialty glasses.

Full face-coverings also reduce the risk of injuries. Although hockey has its own dangers, Dr. Smith reports that hockey “is very low in direct eye injuries because of the mandatory face shields that are used by all players. Hockey players also wear gloves, which makes it very hard to have fingers in the eyes of the other players.”

Dr. Herman recommends polycarbonate lenses with UV protection that “fit properly and snug to the face.” For those with prescription eyewear for everyday use, prescription sports eyewear is also available. Dr. Smith’s son, a high-level baseball player in Wayzata, wears a pair of protective prescription sports glasses while out on the field.

Common protective products include Liberty Sport’s MAXX 20 and SLAM goggles. MAXX 20 goggles are recommended for children and teens playing basketball, handball, paddleball, racquetball, soccer, squash or tennis. They can be fitted with polycarbonate prescription lenses and were the first protective sports eyewear to receive the American Optometric Association Seal of Acceptance. The unisex SLAM goggles protect the eyes during baseball, basketball, paddleball, racquetball, soccer, squash or tennis, and are also available for prescription customization. SLAM goggles are recommended for teens and adults. 

More protective eyewear varieties may be found at local retailers across Plymouth, including VisionSmith and Plymouth Vision Center.


VisionSmith, 4190 Vinewood Ln. N., #109; 763.559.5522;

Plymouth Vision Center, 16875 County Rd. 24; 763.559.4669;