Top 10 Sports Most Likely to Cause Eye Injuries

If your favorite activity is on this list, you should be wearing protective eyewear to avoid potentially serious eye injuries

Wearing the right sports eyewear can keep you safe so you can have more fun. Woman holding racquet wearing safety eyewear.

Trivia fan? Here’s a good one for you: What’s the physical activity responsible for the most sports-related eye injuries in the United States?

Boxing? Great guess, but no.

Basketball? Try again.

Then it’s gotta be baseball. 

Three strikes, you’re out.

The correct answer: Swimming. 

Well, technically, “water and pool activities,” according to a 2021 report on sports-related eye injuries from Prevent Blindness that was based on 2020 data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Injury Information Clearinghouse, and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. 

While you pause to imagine all of the worst-case eye scenarios involving swimming, here’s the point of this little quiz: You need to protect your peepers when you head out for some fun.

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“If you’re playing any kind of sport, you should wear protective eyewear,” says Mollie Veteto, O.D., a Memphis-based optometrist with Nashville Regional Eye Care, located inside an America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. 

“That’s because a huge percentage of sports-related eye injuries are easily preventable,” she adds. 

In fact, the American Academy of Ophthalmology puts the number at 90%. 

Here’s what can go wrong when you skip safety glasses, according to Dr. Veteto:

  • Another player’s (or swimmer’s) fingernail can scratch the surface of your eye, causing a corneal abrasion, which may take days or sometimes weeks to fully heal. 
  • A ball, puck, fishing weight, swimmer’s elbow—you name it—can land on your eye, leading to a black eye, cuts, retinal damage, internal bleeding, or serious bone fractures. Blunt-force traumas like this make up the majority of sports-related eye injuries. 
  • A splinter from a broken bat or other piece of equipment can pierce the eye, requiring emergency surgery. 

“Even a minor injury can lead to retinal detachment,” says Dr. Veteto. “And at the extreme end of the spectrum, the potential is there to lose your vision or an eye.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology categorizes basketball, baseball, and racquet sports as “high risk” activities for eyes. But where the most damage happens might surprise you. Take a look. 

Top 10 Sports-and-Rec Activities That Cause Eye Injuries 

Number of eye injuries reported by activity in 2020.

  1. Water and Pool Play: 2,678
  2. Non-Powder Guns (e.g., BB or paintball), Darts, Arrows, Slingshots: 2,518
  3. Basketball: 2,429
  4. Exercise and Weight Lifting: 2,395
  5. Bicycling: 1,334
  6. Unspecified Sports & Recreational Activities: 968
  7. Baseball and Softball: 935
  8. Playground: 873
  9. Soccer: 788
  10. All-Terrain (4 Wheels) Vehicles: 759

(Source: Prevent Blindness “Sports-Related Eye Injuries by Age—2020.” Figures for injuries are estimates and reflect all ages.)

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Pursue Your Passion and Prevent Eye Injuries

Match your sport to the right safety gear. And remember, “protective eyewear is for everyone, not just those who need corrected vision,” says Dr. Veteto. 

1. Sports where fast-flying balls, equipment, or hard elbows could hit your eye. Picking up a baseball glove or racquet? You need sports goggles with super-strong lenses made of polycarbonate, which is used to make bullet-resistant glass. 

Batters, as well as football and ice hockey players, should wear helmets with polycarbonate face guards attached. Lacrosse and field hockey have different requirements for different levels of play (ask the coach for specifics), but wire eye shields or sports goggles are part of the deal. 

If basketball or soccer more your thing, you may not need to worry about flying equipment, but you still need to protect your eyes from rough contact. Add sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to your defensive playbook. 

2. Sports where you’re taking a dive. Water play can lose its appeal pretty quickly when you forget to wear goggles. The danger here is from scratches and stray kicks from other swimmers, not to mention eye infections and irritations from the water itself. 

Prescription swim goggles are a good option if you wear contact lenses or prescription eyeglasses. Some specialty swim shops also carry goggles with magnifying powers—sort of like reading glasses for the pool.

Keep in mind that contact lenses and water definitely don’t mix—it’s one of the prime sources of eye infections. The lenses pick up any bacteria in the water.

3. Sports with sharp objects. Not so many years ago, fishing topped the danger list. Sinkers run amok. Misguided fishing hooks. It’s too much to think about. 

Just know that if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ll be glad you grabbed your safety glasses before leaving home. Same goes for cyclists who don’t want to do battle with flying road debris. 

Gym regulars can also benefit from a simple pair of polycarbonate safety glasses. You never know when you’ll lose your grip on a weight or snap a resistance band.

4. Sports that require ducking. Boxers, you’re on your own. A report from the American Academy of Ophthalmology comes to this unsatisfying conclusion: “There is no satisfactory eye protection for boxing.”

Talk to your eye doctor about your favorite sports and active hobbies. The staff at America’s Best can help you find the right protective eyewear for your needs.