Eyewear's Effect on Performance
Corrective eyewear can have a profound effect on athletic performance. Until recently, specialists believed that the mental ability to predict, say, the trajectory of a ball, was more important than whether the ball was slightly blurred. A 2003 study, however, involving Wimbledon tennis players and U.K. national clay pigeon shooting champions found that, with slightly blurred vision, the athletes showed a 25 percent worsening of overall performance.
In the United States, 38,000 sports-related eye injuries are reported each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Baseball, volleyball, football, swimming, basketball, boxing, hockey, soccer, and all racquet sports (squash, racquetball, badminton and tennis) account for more than two-thirds of sports-related eye injuries. Among 5-14 years olds, baseball injuries are most frequent, with basketball a close second. Basketball is the leading cause of injury for those 15-64 years old. Many injuries could have been prevented if the athletes had been wearing protective eyewear, such as safety goggles with polycarbonate lenses. Ski goggles are a must, and so are face shields (either "cages" or clear polycarbonate shields) for baseball or softball catchers, as well as hockey, football and paintball players.
Kids do not always like to wear safety eyewear, but parents and coaches should insist. All reputable paintball arenas require continuous wear of polycarbonate shields; they remove players who take them off, even for a second. And safety eyewear is a requirement for participation in Little League.
Never use "dress" eyeglasses during sports. Glasses made for street or office wear are not made to the same standard as safety eyewear and will probably not hold up under impact. Not only could they shatter or bend, but pieces of the lens or frame can cause eye or facial injury.
Another danger during outdoor sports, even in winter, is ultraviolet light from the sun. UV light contributes to diseases such as cataracts and ocular tumors. You can also get a "sunburn" on your eye (called keratitis), which is very painful and may cause long-term damage to the eye. Skiers should always wear tinted goggles or sports sunglasses, since UV bounces off snow even on cloudy days. Sailors, too, need protection from UV reflected off the water.
Some contact lenses offer extra UV blocking. When wearing them, also wear sunglasses, since these contacts lenses cover only the center part of the eye and cannot do anything for uncovered areas. Hats also help, because they cover the top opening between sunglasses and your face.
Some tinted sports sunglasses enhance particular colors by filtering other colors out. Specially tinted contact lenses, such as yellow-enhancing soft contacts and tinted RGPs, can do the same thing. (Do not confuse these light-filtering lenses with regular color contacts, which are tinted in order to change the color of your eyes, but do not affect the colors you see in the environment.)
Yellow enhancement is particularly desirable in tennis, where balls are usually yellow. Amber-tinted contact lenses are worn by some professional baseball players, who find that they help filter out the blue light that reduces their ability to see the baseball clearly. Amber or rose ski goggle lenses also enhance the soft grays that mark shadows on a ski slope. Since these shadows indicate ridges or bumps in the surface, skiers "read" them to decide when to turn, so they will not catch an edge and fall. Other lenses enhance certain colors for golfers, skiers, trap-shooters and more; for example, the ones for golfers are tinted so that it is easier to distinguish between the various green colors on a golf course.
Glare is a lighting condition associated with the brightness of light on a sunny or cloudy day. It can cause you seeing discomfort and pain while doing outdoor activities. That is why it is important to wear eyewear that screens out 75-90% of available light.
Polarized sports sunglasses reduce glare so athletes can see the ball or other players better. An Anti-Glare Treatment is another glare reducer that works, even at night if you are playing under bright lights.
Photochromic lenses are another way to control light. These lenses change from clear or almost clear when indoors to a medium or dark sunglass shade outdoors, depending on the intensity of sunlight. The dominant lens manufacturer of plastic photochromic lenses is Transitions Optical Inc. Therefore, plastic photochromic lenses are often commonly referred to as "Transitions lenses."
Photochromic lenses are terrific for golf, where you are moving from light to shade when walking from one hole to the next. In fact, they work for any outdoor sport on days when it's partly sunny, partly cloudy. For the ultimate light-control lenses, we recommend adding an anti-glare coating to photochromic lenses to eliminate "bounce-back" of light from the back surface of the lenses.
Convenience and Comfort
Many people choose to wear contact lenses for sports, even if they prefer eyeglasses at work and for other daily activities. Contact lenses offer unobstructed peripheral vision and more natural-appearing vision, with no unwanted changes in image sizes that eyeglasses can sometimes produce.
Daily disposable soft contact lenses are the most convenient option, because they do not require a cleaning regimen. Sports vision specialists report that athletes as a group are not as diligent about cleaning their lenses as the general contact lens-wearing population (though we have found no statistics on this). Additionally, some outdoor activities such as camping, overnight sailing, and hunting make lens cleaning inconvenient.
Soft contacts are initially more comfortable than gas permeable (GP) lenses, although GP lens wearers say GP lenses are just as comfortable as soft lenses after an adaptation period (usually a few weeks or so). Soft lenses are also larger than GP lenses and fit closer to the eye, so they are less likely to pop out when a game gets rough. New soft lens designs even correct astigmatism.
The advantages of GP contact lenses are:
- They do not dry out, because they do not contain water.
- They allow more oxygen to reach the cornea than soft lenses, for better eye health.
- They are very good for correcting astigmatism because they hold their shape on the eye.
Our optometrists may recommend GP lenses that are larger than usual, so they are less likely to become dislodged during sports.
Dry eyes are a problem for cold-weather athletes, such as skiers, and for players who keep their eyes open without blinking, such as hockey goalies and racquetball players. Again, GP contact lenses are better at keeping dry eyes at bay. But the best eyewear for dry eyes is eyeglasses, since they do not rest directly on the eye.
Many athletes do not enjoy wearing glasses, because they can fog up or slip down. They also do not provide peripheral vision as good as that obtained with contact lenses. However, for sports like basketball, prescription polycarbonate goggles with a wraparound strap may be a better solution than contact lenses because they provide eye protection.
Sports Vision Therapy
Not only is it important to protect your eyes and have you see clearly, but many sports require other well-developed visual skills. Just like we need to train our muscles in our body, our eyes should be trained as well.
Dynamic Visual Acuity is the ability to see moving objects and players. One study revealed that a college
baseball player increased his batting average from .200 to .300 by improving his dynamic visual acuity.
Visual Pursuit enables you to follow the moving objects and players accurately.
Depth Perception is your ability to quickly and accurately judge the distance and speed of objects, or
players. Baseball players use this skill in catching fly balls and fielding grounders. In the same manner,
hockey goalies use it when defending against approaching slapshots.
Eye/ Hand/ Body Coordination is how your hands, feet, and body respond to visual information. This
vision skill affects your overall performance, because it involves both timing and body control. If your
visual information is inaccurate, it can throw off your body's timing and cause your performance level to
drop. Mis-hitting the ball, throwing off target, or dropping passes can be indications of inaccurate vision.
Learning to coordinate your eyes and body begins during childhood and can be improved with practice.
Visualization is a technique that involves picturing something in your "mind's eye" while you are seeing
and concentrating on something else- usually the ball. For example, when playing golf, your attention
should be on the ball, but in your "mind's eye" you should be picturing the green.
Visual Concentration is your ability to control your visual system for better awareness and less
distractions. Dr. Dodge has found that the shorter period of time a person visually concentrates on
something, the more intense the concentration. When an outfielder or football receiver misses an "easy
catch," it may be that they spent too much time concentrating and did not concentrate intently enough at
the right moment.
All of these can be aided with sports vision therapy.
Contact Visualeyes Optometry today to learn more about sports vision and the right alternatives for your lifestyle.