Healthy Vision Month Interview

We read countless articles on the importance of diet and exercise to keep our brains and bodies as healthy as possible. Proper eye care is something that is equally important but is often overlooked. In an effort to encourage everyone to make their eye health a priority, the National Eye Institute began promoting May as “National Healthy Vision Month.” While today is officially the last day of Healthy Vision Month, it’s important that we continue to take care of our eyes all year long.

Because exercise usually involves taking part in outdoor activities, we wanted to speak with an expert on tips for maintaining eye health while playing sports. Philip R. Rizzuto, M.D., is an ophthalmologist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The Academy was founded in 1896 and is currently the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons.

Rizzuto_Philip 2012.jpgEye-hand coordination and peripheral vision are tied to performance in almost every sport. Is there anything one can do to improve either or both from a mental and/or physical standpoint?
Practice is key. But, athletes should keep in mind that you cannot improve these things if you suffer an eye injury. So, consider wearing protective eyewear when playing sports.

What are the most common sports-related eye injuries?
Common sports eye injuries include corneal abrasions, lacerations, and bleeding in the eye. Basketball players tend to get poked in the eye with fingers. Tennis and softball players more often get hit with fast moving balls. Orbital contusions, bruises, and fractures (when bones around the eye are broken) are more common in baseball. In contact sports like football and martial arts, more severe ocular injuries such as retinal detachment and orbital fracture occur.

How do head injuries, such as concussions, affect the eyes in the short and long-term?
Concussions can cause blurred vision, possibly even double vision. If a patient doesn’t allow time to recover fully from a concussion, he or she can suffer long-term damage that can affect not only vision, but also thinking, coordination, and other key functions. The key is to allow the concussion to heal before returning to sports, and don’t go back without your doctor and ophthalmologist’s approval. Also, there are new concussion follow-up routines that patients will be given by their doctors. Patients should follow these closely before going back on the field.

Wearing protective eyewear, such as goggles, is often recommended as a safeguard against injury but not perceived as fashionable. Is this something that needs to be addressed, or is there an alternative that can at least partially protect the eyes? Also, do goggles negatively affect performance?
An ophthalmologist’s primary concern will always be eye safety. However, sports goggles have become much more fashionable in recent years. So, no I don’t believe there is an issue that needs addressing. In regards to the question about performance, suffering an eye injury will affect an athlete’s performance much more negatively than wearing protective eyewear. Also, there have been many great athletes who have worn protective eyewear through the years, such as NBA players Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Amar’e Stoudemire. Doing so never seemed to slow them down.

Learn about what kinds of eye protection are recommended for different sports at the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart® public education website.

– Seimi Rurup

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