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Protective sports eyewear

Be safe and play better, in style

Posted: May 16, 2008 2:45 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.
arents have a lot of "worst nightmares," and one of them is that their beautiful child might lose an eye in some sports-related accident. It's a fear that permeates our culture and even reaches into our fiction. In the now-classic movie, "A Christmas Story," young Ralphie is desperate to get a BB gun for Christmas. But everyone keeps telling him, "You'll shoot your eye out." When he finally does get his prized gun, the first shot nearly shoots his eye out. The only thing that prevents it is his glasses - and the glass lens in question shatters. That, in itself, could have been a disaster.

And while that fictional tale is humorous and entertaining, it isn't too far from reality.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 42,000 sports-related eye injuries require emergency room attention each year. The Protective Eyewear Certification Council indicates that an estimated 13,500 of these injuries result in permanent lost of sight. The CPSC indicates that approximately 72 percent of sports-related eye injuries occur in people younger than 25 years, and approximately 43 percent occur in children younger than 15 years.

"I think that 72 percent statistic is the most important," said Newhall optometrist Dr. Joshua Corben. He explained that people under 30 are generally more active and less careful than those who are older.

So what does one do to protect their children, or themselves, from sports-related eye injuries? The answer is obvious, but surprisingly, often overlooked.

Use protective eyewear.

"Everyone who participates in sports, especially children, should have an eye exam before going off to camp or increased activities in the backyard," said a spokesperson for the California Optometric Association. "The optometrist can determine if protective sports eyewear is recommended while detecting and correcting vision problems like nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, which could diminish performance and lead to physical injury during sports play."

And we're not talking about the old pink-rubber-nosed, insect-eyed goober-glasses they had us wear back in the day. These days protective eyewear is trendy and stylish.

Dr. Corben said protective eyewear comes in sizes to fit ages 18-months and above, and it all looks good. Using one style of Liberty Optical's Rec Specs as an example, which his 3 ½ year-old daughter Madeline kindly modeled, he explained that the polycarbonate lenses are shatter-resistant and securely fastened in the semi-flexible frames so they can't pop out. The nose bridge is cushioned and the earpieces are extra flexible to "grip" the sides of the head. And, depending on the style, there may be a short, flexible headband connecting the earpieces, so the eyewear won't fly off the head.

Dr. Corben said protective eyewear ranges from $100 - $500, depending on the features. Eye exams and prescription lenses are an additional charge. The lenses all offer UV protection and options include polarizing to reduce glare and provide better definition, and various tints, such as amber, for maintaining depth perception in low light situations. While the curvature of some lens styles may restrict the amount of prescription correction that can be put onto them, pretty much anything goes. You can get progressive lenses or single-vision, as well. Dr. Corben offers a one-year warranty on frames and lenses.

Dr. Corben, who shares the Newhall offices with his father, has been in practice for six years and is the president of the San Fernando Optometric Society, which encompasses the Santa Clarita Valley. He said he has a large pediatric patient base and is very familiar with children's eye needs, including those for protective sports eyewear.

"Even kids who have 20/40 or 20/50 vision need glasses to see the fine details (during sports)," he said. "At 20/40, hand-eye coordination and eye tracking are already diminished."

He explained that these children need better vision to protect themselves, to see what's coming at them, especially in sports like fast-pitch baseball. But wearing their regular glasses during active sports is not a good idea. If they are struck in the face by something, "Regular glasses are not going to provide adequate protection from blunt-force trauma."

The obvious benefit of seeing better is the possibility of better sports performance. "If they can track the ball sooner they can focus faster and farther away," Dr. Corben said.

He related a story about a boy who came in who had previously been a .500 hitter, but had recently slipped to about .250. It turned out his vision had changed. After getting protective eyewear with corrective lenses, his average went back up to .500.

But protective sports eyewear isn't just for children. It's for anyone of any age who engages in active sports such as motorcycling, biking, hiking, skateboarding, swimming, personal watercraft, shooting, snowboarding, baseball, softball, soccer, football, tennis, racquetball - anything. Dr. Corben said mountain bikers particularly benefit from the new eyewear, which protects their eyes from bright sunlight, glare, UV and flying pebbles. These eyepieces stay securely and comfortably on the head and rarely are they subject to fogging.

He emphasized that in the last three or four years protective eyewear has really come into its own, with many attractive styles for boys and girls, men and women. When young people see these they suddenly realize, "Oh, these aren't so bad!"


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