Children actively involved in athletics should wear safety eye wear, especially those children who play ball sports, according to an assistant professor of opthalmology at Emory University School of Medicine.

An estimated 30 percent of ocular (eye) injuries in children under 16 years of age are sports-related and usually occur when children are not wearing protective eye wear, says Dr. Arlene Drack.Drack says lightweight, shatterproof, polycarbonate safety glasses, goggles or shields should be worn by any child participating in high-risk sports, including baseball, basketball and football.

Baseball is the most frequent cause of sports-related eye injuries in children under the age of 15, she said. Blowout fractures may occur when the bones forming the orbit the eye sits in are fractured upon impact by a baseball or softball. A cracked skeletal orbit can also affect the eye muscle and cause eye misalignment.

Basketball and football are the leading causes of sports-related injuries in the 15- to 24-year-old age group, she said. Elbow injuries to the eye are not uncommon in basketball, nor are deep abrasions (from fingernails) to the cornea, the eye's clear, outer layer. Corneal cuts may also occur during mountain biking or cross-country running, when tree branches slash the eyeball.

Racquetball, paddle ball, tennis and other racquet sports put the eyes at risk for retinal detachment, a serious threat to eyesight in which the retina, the camera filmlike structure on the back wall of the eye, is damaged.

Drack conducted a study of safety eye wear compliance among children who were blind in one eye and sighted in the other. (Respondents had been struck in the face by a swing, a firecracker, a ball during dodgeball and a rock, among other items.) Polycarbonate safety glasses saved two of the children from blindness.

In the study, the majority of boys and almost half of the girls participated in sports, Drack said. "Compliance with safety eye protection wear was good and no injuries have been reported during sports."

Nearly half of the children surveyed reported having "at least one potentially serious accident in which the safety glasses had protected the good eye." The study was published in the the Journal of Pediatric Opthamology and Strabismus.

- Associated Press

Soft contacts for children

Children can start wearing soft contact lenses in the fifth or sixth grade, depending on the maturity of the child, an Indiana University research optometrist says.

A child who begins wearing contacts needs a few weeks to become familiar with them before school starts, says Dr. Sarita Soni. "Don't wait until the first day of school . . . when the school bus won't wait," she says.

Scripps Howard News Service