Participating in sports is an amazing way for children to increase their physical fitness, self-esteem, and confidence and learn how to work as part of a team. Recent data from the CDC’s National Health Interview Study show that in 2020, 54.1% of children aged 6-17 years participated in sports during the past 12 months. And don’t forget about adults: a Harvard study found that one in four adults currently play sports. The benefits? Stress reduction and improved mental and physical health.
This high level of participation in sports and activities can come at a price. Over 600,000 sports-related eye injuries occur each year, with 30,000 treated in U.S. emergency rooms, and the majority of these are happening to those under 18. According to Protect, Prevent, Play, a collaboration between Zyloware and the International Sports Vision Association, 90% of these injuries could be treated by wearing appropriate sports eyewear.
Why are these injuries so common? Athletes know the importance of protection for their sport in the form of helmets, mouth guards, and cleats. We would never send a football player on the field without full pads, participate as a hockey goalie without a helmet, or play soccer without shin guards. Everyday dress eyewear (the frames we typically provide patients within our office), sunglasses, and contact lenses do not provide adequate protection against potential eye injuries, and they may actually make an injury worse. Wearing independently tested sports eyewear that is designed for specific sports is the only way to protect against these injuries in our youth and adult patients.
Getting Patients Excited About Sports Eyewear
How can we best present this eyewear to our patients and get them excited and willing to wear protective eyewear in their sports? Here are my top tips:
- Be all in. This is not the time to dabble. Every patient should know how serious you are about protection. Showcase your knowledge on your website, send out email blasts, post on social media, and have your front desk staff remind every patient to bring their sports eyewear in for their appointment. They don’t have any? Well, we just created a need!
- Ask EVERY patient about sports, hobbies, and activities. Often our patients (especially adults) don’t consider themselves athletes because they don’t compete at a high level. I encourage you to redefine what an athlete is. I consider anyone who moves their body in a sport, hobby, or activity an athlete, regardless of their level of skill or competition. Each and every athlete has the potential for eye injury and needs to be protected. This can be done on intake forms, by a technician, or as part of the exam (or all three!).
- Be knowledgeable. Every optician should be well versed in understanding the ASTM standards for each sport. ASTM International is one of the largest voluntary standards-developing organizations in the world, and it sets the standards for protective gear in every sport. Ultimately, we should be the experts in this for our patients.
- Independent testing matters. I always tell my patients that it is critical to make sure that an outside independent laboratory has verified that the equipment meets a current standard. Not sure if your eyewear has? Products that have undergone independent, third-party testing by an accredited laboratory should have a label identifying as such.
- Don’t hide your eyewear. Often our sports eyewear doesn’t get the same treatment as our dress eyewear. Instead of being displayed on our frame boards, it is often kept in a dusty box in a closet or in storage. We need to display and market this eyewear as we would any other frame or sunglasses that we sell. Opticians should be well versed in pricing, lens needs, and know how to properly fit these frames for compliance and comfort.
- Don’t forget emmetropes and contact lens wearers! Protective sports eyewear is not just for those who have a prescription. It should be worn by anyone playing a sport – even if they wear contact lenses or don’t need any correction.
- Make it fun! Current sports eyewear is so different from what most of us perceive. Long gone are the uncomfortable goggles that we remember, and instead the newest styles are sporty, comfortable, and fun. They come in colors, patterns, and different sizes and styles, with the ability to coordinate the eyewear and straps to match team colors. Often my younger patients prefer to wear these as their everyday eyewear, which is great to see. Have fun with the eyewear, make it an event, and be sure to share it on social media.
Adopting These Tips in Your Office
Looking for a way to get started? The International Sports Vision Association has partnered with Zyloware to create Protect, Prevent, Play. This is a great resource that practices can put on their websites and in their offices to help patients learn more about the need for protective eyewear. Having a premade handout with engaging statistics and real world advice can be extremely impactful on our patients, and practitioners can get started immediately and not feel they have to reinvent the wheel.
The Vision Council is also a great resource for statistics, information, advocacy, research, and education.
By being proactive instead of reactive, we can make a significant impact on the safety of our patients of all ages.