Sports Eye Care
Vision Requirements for Athletes
Sports require a high degree of interaction with the environment, and about 80% what we know about the environment comes through our eyes. Excellent sports performance requires that athletes be very good at taking meaning from the environment.
Excellence in sports requires excellence in hand-eye coordination, visual memory, depth-perception, eye-foot coordination, peripheral vision, contrast sensitivity, and/or focus flexibility. Each sport presents particular dangers to the eyes, and requires appropriate eyewear.
The practice of sports medicine relative to vision care has developed enormously in recent years and includes specific recommendations for protective and corrective lenses, performance testing combined with therapies to enhance eye skills, therapies for recovering from traumatic injuries, and most importantly, understanding and appreciating the role nutrition plays in developing maintaining and recovering good sight functionality.
Damage from Sunlight
Sunlight, both UV radiation and blue light, damages the eyes over time and accelerates lens and retinal issues. Why? Because it speeds up cellular breakdown and buildup, resulting in increased free radical activity, oxidative stress and cellular debris that the eye has to resolve and get remove.
In a healthy eye, this is done readily. But as we age, resolving the these problems gets more difficult and therefore, over time, results in the breakdown of healthy tissue in the eye lens and/or retina.
- Protective - Trauma Protection: Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children, and sports are the leading
cause of eye injuries. Baseball players under age 15 and basketball players between 15
and 24 suffer the most eye injuries. Eye protection is the key to preventing these injuries.
- Protective eye wear should be worn during both practice and games. The eyewear should be polycarbonate with UV protection and should meet the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) guideline for the particular sport.
- Prescription glasses are not good protective eyewear for sports.
- Protective - Light Protection: Protecting the eyes with amber-tinted sunglasses is a key factor in preventing damage to the lens, retina and macula from both ultra violet radiation and blue light and preventing eye disease of many types. Learn more about UV radiation.
- Corrective: Contact lenses have several advantages over eyeglasses when engaging in sports.
- Contact lenses offer better peripheral vision, they can be used with protective eyewear, they have a more unobstructed field of view, and because glasses can joggle with movement contact lenses offer a more stable field of vision.
- Contact lenses also don't fog up like glasses do, and they offer less chance of injury in case of a collision.
- Contact lenses with UV protection still only cover the part of the eye where the lenses are, so sports protective glasses with full UV protection are still recommended.
Ultra Violet Radiation
While athletes rarely wear sunglasses, not to mention hats or visors, under the particular conditions of competition, there is no good reason to neglect wearing them during practice. Sunglasses, perferably with amber tints are necessary to protect the cornea, lens, retina and macula and a visor further shields the delicate skin around the eyes.
Ultra violet light (400-100 nanometers) coming from the sun is comprised of a number of subtypes, but for our discussion UVA (400-315 nm) and UVB (315-280 nm) radiation are the most important. UVA light is generally considered less dangerous to the skin but it damages the macula, the portion of the retina responsible for central vision. Damage to the macula results in macular degeneration and related conditions. UVB light comprises only 5% of UV light, but is popularly considered most dangerous. The front of the eye - the cornea and lens absorb much of this light, at a cost of heightening risk of cataracts. People who work outdoors have been found to be three times more likely to develop cataracts.
Therefore, use of UV blocking sunglasses is very important for athletes who practice and perform outdoors, and wearing a visor to further shield you from light from above is even better.
- Sunglasses, as discussed above, are key for your outdoor protection.
- Eye exercises for vision fitness: eyes have muscles too. Eye exercises in a daily vision
fitness program can ease eye discomfort and maintain a balanced field of vision, especially when
daily life does not use those skills.
As we age the muscles in the eyes become less flexible. Eye exercises can make sure that eyes get regular practice in skills like peripheral vision, long distance focus or dynamic visual acuity. Regular eye exercises can increase circulation and energy flow, helping to support delivery of oxygen and essential nutrients.
- Traumatic head injuries: the incidence of visits to the hospital for concussions as a result
of sports injuries has been on the rise, possibly because of increased understanding of the
seriousness of traumatic head injury.
- Blurred vision
- Headaches related to eye movement
- An array of physical, cognitive, emotional and sleep changes.
Athletes who may have a concussion should see their medical practitioner and follow instructions for rest and recovery. Studies are showing that nutrients such as fish oil, vitamins, and brain-enhancing supplements including ginkgo biloba are having a positive effect on recovery of brain function.
- Healthy connective tissue prevents eye trauma from developing into serious eye damage. Good nutrition is the best way to insure healthy connective tissue.
- Visiting an eye care practitioner with a specialty in sports eye performance is not just for those with eyesight problems. Many athletes and others such as pilots and law enforcement personnel have also improved their job performance by working on their sports vision skills. An eye care practitioner with a specialty in sports can help the athlete improve sports performance by testing with a 3D viewer, holographic projections or even on-field measuring of reactions. Also a sports eye specialist should be able to give advice about protective eyewear, specialty lenses and treatment of injuries.
- Developmental ophthalmology, also called integrative eye therapy or natural eye care is a holistic approach to eye health and vision improvement that works not just on the mechanics of eyesight, but through all the variables that influence vision. An integrative eye doctor may evaluate the person's lifestyle, habits, diet, exercise routine, and stress management, along with the family history. The treatment plan may include acupuncture, chiropractic, athletics, psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and other healing modalities in combination with vision exercises.
Ocular trauma resulting from sports injuries can cause not only direct damage from objects striking, penetrating, or tearing the surface of the cornea, but blood vessel leakage, corneal abrasions, inflammation, detachment in eye tissues and swelling. Some of the conditions that may be caused by ocular trauma include:
- Detached retina
- Detached vitreous
- Macular edema (swelling)
- Optic nerve damage
- Choroidal neovascularization
- Macular hole
- Central serous choroidopathy
Anyone who has an eye injury or head injury should consult a health care professional immediately.
Drinking fresh organic juices is an excellent way for athletes to get the nutrients needed to be able to function at the high level required for their sport. Sports demand alertness and energy while producing wear, tear and exhaustion on the cellular level. Optimally healthy tissue helps prevent serious injury and quick recovery from injuries. Juicing is a way to make sure you get that critical nutrition. Athletes seeking good eye health should drink fresh juices from leafy greens, blueberries, raspberries, broccoli, cabbage, beets, carrots, ginger, leeks, garlic, red and green peppers and citrus fruits. Not only will the fresh juices deliver an energetic lift far superior to most food snacks, but they will quickly and effortlessly provide the array of vitamins, nutrients and anti-oxidants necessary for healthy eyesight.
Nutrition for Sports Vision
- Carotenoids, which are abundant not only in carrots but leafy green vegetables, appear to protect against damage from UV and blue light and protect retinal health.
- Anti-oxidants are important for athletes' eye care because they help repair the damage to cells created by the wear and tear of heavy exercise. Vitamin E is found in fish oil, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fortified cereals. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, red and green peppers and strawberries. Beta-carotene Is present in liver, egg yolks, milk, butter, and squash.
- Studies have shown that vitamin C, abundant in healthy eyes, is lower in people who are developing cataracts, and this vitamin is a routine part of glaucoma treatment in Europe. So citrus fruits, red peppers, and tomatoes are good vision-supporting foods.
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil help to regulate fluid movement in the eyes and maintain healthy levels of fluid pressure.
- Magnesium, which can be found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, halibut, and whole grains, has been found to moderate glaucoma and so is a good nutrient for maintaining healthy eye tissue.
- Ginkgo biloba, which is an herbal supplement, can moderate glaucoma and has been found to help recovery of brain function after sports-related traumatic brain injuries, making it a possibility for maintaining eye-brain health.